A statue of Confederate general and Ku Klux Klan grand wizard Nathan Bedford Forrest, long derided for both its subject and its comically absurd portrayal of him, has finally been removed from the side of a highway in Tennessee.
Crews removed the statue near I-65 in Nashville early Tuesday. An executor of the statue owner’s will reportedly ordered the removal, according to News Channel 5.
The statue, which stood for more than two decades, was on private property, but Bill Dorris, the man who owned both the property and the statue, died last year. Dorris reportedly left his estate to the Sons of Confederate Veterans, a neo-Confederate group; the Battle of Nashville Trust, a Civil War site preservation organization; and Lulu, his border collie.
The statue has long been criticized due to Bedford’s legacy of fighting for white supremacy both during and after the Civil War. In 2015, Nashville’s city government petitioned for the state to block the statue from the highway’s view with vegetation, a request the administration of former Republican Gov. Bill Haslem “respectfully denied” at the time.
Aside from the racism, the statue has also been mocked relentlessly for its appearance. It depicts Forrest–rendered with truly comic facial features–riding a horse and wielding a pistol.
In 2017, the statue was vandalized with a thick coat of pink paint, which Dorris declined to remove. “I do think they’ve chose a real good color,” he told the Tennessean at the time.
“The statue is ugly,” Battle of Nashville Trust president James Kay told Nashville Scene after Dorris’s death last year. “It is a blight on Nashville and its citizens. It hinders our mission and what we are trying to accomplish. If the property is deeded to the trust, the statue will be removed.” (The executor of the will, Trenton Dean Waltrous, made the decision to remove the statue, according to the Tennessean.)
“This has been a national embarrassment,” Democratic state Sen. Heidi Campbell, who represents Nashville, told the Tennessean Tuesday. “I’m so excited. This is great news. It’s just so hurtful to people, not to mention it’s heinously ugly.”
This has not been a good year for memorials to Nathan Bedford Forrest. A statue of Forrest in a cemetery in Rome, Georgia was removed in January and placed in storage, and in June, the city of Memphis dug up the remains of Forrest and his wife and moved them to a Confederate museum in Columbia, Tennessee run by the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
On Tuesday, the Charlottesville (Virginia) City Council voted to hand over the city’s Robert E. Lee statue—which spurred the deadly Unite the Right protest in 2017—to the Jefferson School African-American Heritage Center, a local museum that plans to melt it down and turn it into a new piece of artwork as part of a project called “Swords into Plowshares,” executive director Dr. Andrea Douglas said in a Monday video.
The statue was removed by the city earlier this year, as part of the ongoing national reckoning with Confederate monuments.
The center plans to solicit public input to determine what the final piece looks like, and has ambitions “to create something that transforms what was once toxic in our public space into something beautiful and more reflective of our entire community’s social values,” as Douglas said in the video.
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