Remains of KKK leader Nathan Bedford Forrest exhumed from Tennessee park

·3 min read
Members of the Memphis Greenspace board take a look at the now former grave of Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, in Memphis, Tenn., on Friday, June 11, 2021. (AP)
Members of the Memphis Greenspace board take a look at the now former grave of Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, in Memphis, Tenn., on Friday, June 11, 2021. (AP)

The remains of Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate army general, and the first grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, have been exhumed from the Health Sciences Park in Memphis, Tennessee and taken to a secret location in the western part of the state before being moved to a museum south of Nashville.

The work, carried by a group called “The Sons of Confederate Veterans” to remove the remains of the infamous slave trader began on 1 June.

While the remains were discovered on Monday, shortly after 9am, an announcement was not made until Friday in order to ensure that all artefacts had been found, Shelby County Election Commissioner Brent Taylor told reporters, according to the Memphis Commercial Appeal.

A statue of the KKK leader was removed from the park in December 2017.

The statue and remains will be reassembled and interred at the National Confederate Museum in Columbia south of Nashville.

A “Victorian cradle” with the initials of Mr Forrest was found, leading them to the location of his remains. The graves of the general and his wife were finally found 10 feet below the park plaza. The grand wizard’s casket remained whole, but his wife’s had decayed and her remains were placed in a temporary casket.

Shelby County Commissioner Van Turner said that no discussions have yet been had on what will replace the statue.

“Let’s just let the park breathe, let’s relax a little bit and enjoy the park,” he said. “We’re going to leave it up to the Memphians and the Shelby Countians.”

The park was previously called Forrest Park and was bought by non-profit organisation Memphis Greenspace when the statue was removed in 2017.

Mr Forrest lived from 1821 to 1877. His statue was erected in 1904. His descendants were present when his remains were placed in the park in November 1904, and again generations later when the remains were removed more than 116 years later.

“We wanted this process to be respectful, to be something that healed divisions,” Mr Turner said.

“I think the Forrest family wanted the remains of their ancestor to rest in peace,” he added. “There was never going to be peace here.”

Tami Sawyer was one of the leaders behind the effort to remove the statue. She’s now one of 13 Shelby County Commissioners.

She was harassed by one of the workers exhuming the remains as she spoke to reporters. George Johnson, 46, was seen and heard singing “Dixie” and waving the Confederate flag. He called Ms Sawyer a “communist piece of s**t”.

“If you were a man, I would beat your a**,” he said, according to a police report.

He was arrested and charged with misdemeanour assault. He has since been released.

Mr Turner said the tension around the park “could have been a disaster” but that those involved were committed to working across the aisle.

“We would hope that the example showed here with the safe removal of the monuments and the safe removal of the remains will serve as an example of what we can do to move this city forward,” he added, calling it “a great day for Memphis,” according to WREG.

“We have not had the issues other cities have had,” Mr Taylor said. “We did this right.”

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