Give Nathan Bedford Forrest A Break

Nathan Bedford Forrest memorial

Private property is private property, even if it is a statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest. Sure, the guy made a living selling slaves and fought to preserve the enslavement of black Americans. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

None of that matters when it comes to a piece of private property located on private property, such as the statue now at the center of a story coming out of Nashville. The Tennessean reports the following:

The state of Tennessee has denied the request of Nashville’s Metro Council to plant trees and vegetation to block the view of a controversial Nathan Bedford Forrest statue on Interstate 65. . . At issue is a 25-foot fiberglass Forrest statue, designed by the late sculptor and attorney Jack Kershaw, erected on private land in 1998 near Crieve Hall. Kershaw was among a series of attorneys hired by James Earl Ray after being convicted of the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968.

Freelance journalist Ruth Graham writes the following about said statue:

Normally, a statue this hideous would be draw most of its terribleness from its remarkably crappy construction, but in this case aesthetics are the least of its offenses

Photo of Nathan Bedford Forrest statue on Interstate 65 outside of Nashville. Photo by freelance journalist Ruth Graham.

Photo of Nathan Bedford Forrest statue on Interstate 65 outside of Nashville. Photo by freelance journalist Ruth Graham.

No matter how hideous-looking the statue is, and no matter what Nathan Bedford Forrest did during his lifetime, private property is still private property.

It is one thing to be opposed to displays of the Confederate flag in inappropriate places on government property. It is another thing to want to scrub from view every piece of private property that pertains to the old Confederacy.

People ought to respect the property rights of the owner of that statue, even if it does look like a magnified cheap plastic trinket sold by the dozens in a gift shop.


Historical Note: Although Nathan Bedford Forrest is known as one of the original members of the Ku Klux Klan, he dissolved the original version of the KKK in 1869.

The Wikipedia entry about Forrest states, “In July 1875, Forrest demonstrated that his personal sentiments on the issue of race now differed from that of the Klan, when he was invited to give a speech before an organization of black Southerners advocating racial reconciliation, called the Independent Order of Pole-Bearers Association.”

Here is what he said in his speech:

Ladies and Gentlemen I accept the flowers as a memento of reconciliation between the white and colored races of the southern states. I accept it more particularly as it comes from a colored lady, for if there is any one on God’s earth who loves the ladies I believe it is myself.

This day is a day that is proud to me, having occupied the position that I did for the past twelve years, and been misunderstood by your race. This is the first opportunity I have had during that time to say that I am your friend. I am here a representative of the southern people, one more slandered and maligned than any man in the nation.
I will say to you and to the colored race that men who bore arms and followed the flag of the Confederacy are, with very few exceptions, your friends. I have an opportunity of saying what I have always felt – that I am your friend, for my interests are your interests, and your interests are my interests. We were born on the same soil, breathe the same air, and live in the same land. Why, then, can we not live as brothers? I will say that when the war broke out I felt it my duty to stand by my people. When the time came I did the best I could, and I don’t believe I flickered.

I came here with the jeers of some white people, who think that I am doing wrong. I believe that I can exert some influence, and do much to assist the people in strengthening fraternal relations, and shall do all in my power to bring about peace. It has always been my motto to elevate every man- to depress none. (Applause.) I want to elevate you to take positions in law offices, in stores, on farms, and wherever you are capable of going.

I have not said anything about politics today. I don’t propose to say anything about politics. You have a right to elect whom you please; vote for the man you think best, and I think, when that is done, that you and I are freemen. Do as you consider right and honest in electing men for office. I did not come here to make you a long speech, although invited to do so by you. I am not much of a speaker, and my business prevented me from preparing myself. I came to meet you as friends, and welcome you to the white people. I want you to come nearer to us. When I can serve you I will do so. We have but one flag, one country; let us stand together. We may differ in color, but not in sentiment. Use your best judgement in selecting men for office and vote as you think right.

Many things have been said about me which are wrong, and which white and black persons here, who stood by me through the war, can contradict. I have been in the heat of battle when colored men, asked me to protect them. I have placed myself between them and the bullets of my men, and told them they should be kept unharmed. Go to work, be industrious, live honestly and act truly, and when you are oppressed I’ll come to your relief. I thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for this opportunity you have afforded me to be with you, and to assure you that I am with you in heart and in hand.

Click here to read the New York Times obituary about Nathan Bedford Forrest.


Originally published at The Moderate Voice.

Featured Image: Nathan Bedford Forrest grave and memorial in Nathan Badford Forrest Park on Union Ave in Memphis, Tennesse. (Jan. 2008) Photo made by Thomas R Machnitzki. Photo retrieved from Wikipedia and used with the permission of its creator.

Quote of Nathan Bedford Forrest’s speech taken from The Memphis Daily Appeal newspaper, July 6, 1877, Vol. 85, No. 135. Retrieved from Library of Congress.

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