Nashville’s infamous Nathan Bedford Forrest monument finally comes down

Took Long Enough

Nashville’s infamous Nathan Bedford Forrest monument finally comes down

The monument to Nathan Bedford Forrest in 2006. The 25-foot-tall statue was made from polyurethane with gold leaf over the horse and silver leaf over Forrest himself. (Brent Moore/Flickr/Accessed under CC BY 2.0)

It’s taken 23 years, but a statue of Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest just south of Nashville, Tennessee, frequently ridiculed for its ghoulish appearance, has finally been pulled down.

Installed in 1998 on the private property of local businessman Bill Dorris and surrounded by 13 Confederate flag poles (which remain standing), the 25-foot-tall statue has looked down on the adjacent Interstate-65 highway ever since. The monument to Forrest, who served as the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan in addition to his time in the Confederacy, was built by lawyer Jack Kershaw, a friend of Dorris’s and co-founder of the white supremacist group League of the South. Kershaw was no artist, and the end result, a cross-eyed, slack-jawed Forrest with stumpy legs, has frequently been called one of America’s ugliest monuments—even when the subject matter is put aside.

Unfortunately, even for those on both sides of the debate over whether Confederate monuments should remain standing who could find common ground in needing to take down this particular installation, any decision was ultimately up to Dorris. In July of 2017, the Nashville Metro Council passed a motion asking the Tennessee Department of Transportation to plant around the statue and block it from view, something the department quickly dismissed.

At the end of 2017, the monument was splashed in pink paint by activists; Dorris reportedly left it as is to draw even more attention to the statue. The effigy had been repeatedly defaced over the years and even shot at, which Dorris seemed to take in stride as he simultaneously ignored pleas to take Forrest’s hurtful, racist legacy into account.

As intractable as Dorris was, he passed away at the end of this November, putting parts of his estate, including the memorial to Forrest, in the hands of the nonprofit Battle of Nashville Trust. (Notably, $5 million also went to Lulu, his beloved Border Collie.) The trust quickly moved to take down the statue and it was toppled this morning, December 7.

In a statement reprinted by News Channel 5 Nashville, the trust expressed confusion and surprise at being named in Dorris’s will, saying it had never had any affiliation with him. In a blunt statement, the trust called the statue ugly, said Nathan Bedford Forrest would find it ugly, and pointed out that Forrest wasn’t even at the Battle of Nashville in 1864, which is the trust’s entire purview. The polyurethane statue, damaged during the takedown this morning, will remain in storage until a permanent home or solution can be found for it.

Meanwhile, in Charlottesville, Virginia, a final fate has been decided for an equally infamous Confederate monument. The City Council, in a 4-0 vote, approved selling the Robert E. Lee statue at the heart of the deadly Unite the Right rally in August of 2017 to the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center (JSAAHC), which plans on melting it down and reusing the bronze for art installations. The monument was pulled down from its home in Lee Park, renamed Market Street Park in 2018, on July 10 of this year.

The group, joined by other Charlottesville-based organizations, has been crowdfunding its campaign on Indiegogo under the name Swords Into Plowshares in an attempt to turn the wounds of white supremacy into tools of healing.

According to the group, the campaign, which is still active, is raising money for:

  • the transportation of the statue to a foundry and its transformation into bronze ingots
  • a six-month community engagement process led by the University of Virginia’s Institute for Engagement + Negotiation
  • the commissioning of a nationally-recognized artist to work with the community in designing and creating a new work of art
  • and a salaried project manager position at the JSAAHC to oversee Swords Into Plowshares