Even Forrest Would Think It is Ugly: One More Down


SAY WHAT? - Given....everything, it's not much. But in a glimmer of good news, the Lost Cause lost again earlier this month when Nashville TN finally took down the moral and aesthetic "abomination" that was its deranged fiberglass statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest, a millionaire antebellum slave trader, Confederate general and war criminal who later served as the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. Long deemed "a blight" on a city that sees itself as a symbol of "the new South" - albeit in a state where a black man just won a new trial after being convicted by an all-white jury in a room named for the daughters of the Confederacy and hung with a Confederate flag - the "objectively hideous," 27-foot-high statue stood a few miles south of Nashville in plain view of the highway for over 20 years, a  rare Confederate monument as ugly as the racist history it marks.

Grinning maniacally and surrounded by 13 Confederate flags, the statue was meant to "honor" Forrest, a brutal calvary commander who after infamously ordering the massacre of up to 200 black Union soldiers who'd already surrendered went on to become the KKK's first equally brutal leader, launching a campaign of midnight parades, "ghost" masquerades and the random whipping and killing of black voters. Though he died in 1877, Forrest still dots the American landscape, with statues, streets and buildings named for him across the south and what were once about 30 testimonials to him in Tennessee.

The most repulsive was the gold and silver one outside Nashville, a cartoon grotesquerie that looked like "40 mufflers stapled together" with a Burger-King-figure, his face twisted "like when you step on a Lego," atop an equally demented horse. It was made from bathtub material by one Jack Kershaw, a "gold-plated eccentric," lifelong segregationist and lawyer who defended Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassin James Earl Ray, belonged to the Nashville White Citizens Council - which Thurgood Marshall called "the uptown Klan" - and founded the white nationalist League of the South, an SPLC-designated hate group; at the statue's unveiling, Kersaw declared, "Somebody needs to say a good word for slavery." Luckily, he was joined in this dubious endeavor by his businessman friend Bill Dorris, on whose land the statue resided. "Now, I've been accused of being racist...If I'm a racist, why do i have so many blacks working for me?" asked Dorris, who once described slavery as "the first form of Social Security" because black people "never had it so good as far as job security." “Any monument is a symbol of racism if you are going to make it a symbol of racism," he said of the "mediocre" statue, which he simply wanted "to scream, 'The South has risen again,'" but, you know, not in a racist way. When Dorris died last year, he designated a $5 million trust to his border collie Lulu, though his estate was reportedly only worth a half million. He left his Confederate flags to the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

Sadly, Nashville residents didn't share Dorris' enthusiasm for the Forrest atrocity: Over the years, they repeatedly shot at it, tried to cut off its legs, tried to pull it down with a moving train, splashed it with pink paint, wrote "Monster" on the horse's butt, and raised a banner that read, "Trump 2016: Make AMERIKKKA Great Again” - all actions Dorris blamed on “carpetbagging Yankees.” Evidently carpetbagging city officials were also embarrassed enough they tried to get the state to plant trees to hide it from the highway; Dorris threatened to raise it on stilts. Until this month, Forrest had prevailed, but in the end Dorris miscalculated. In his will, he left the statue to the Battle of Nashville Trust, which safeguards a pivotal victory for the Union that ended the western campaign, with massive casualties to black soldiers. But the Trust, citing a statue that "has been divisive in the city we all cherish," chose the future over the past. Politely "putting aside a debate about Forrest as a person," they argued that while historic preservation is critical, the battlefield today is "virtually unrecognizable," the site of the statue  "is not core battlefield land," and oh yeah, it's hideous. Their conclusions: "1. Forrest was not present at the Battle of Nashville. 2. The property has no historical significance related to the battle. 3. The statue is ugly. 4. Even Forrest would think it is ugly. 5. It hinders our mission." They added, "The Trust is grateful for the gift by Mr. Dorris."

Some argue that Kershaw's macabre, hilarious Forrest should in fact be the country's only monument to a white supremacist Confederacy left standing, because "it so perfectly captures how shitty it was." Said one horrified observer, "I like to think (Forrest's) soul is trapped in there, screaming for all eternity." Still, a couple of weeks ago, he came down. His final fall was, alas, inelegant: As the crane lowered him, the horse's head broke off, as did parts of Forrest. Of the "national embarassment," said one state senator, "This is great news." It was also the latest in a series of indignities visited upon Confederate memorials by what Lost Causers call "left-wing activists who are pushing an anti-American agenda (who) have made clear Forrest is merely the tip of the iceberg." Thus have Tennessee's formerly 31 memorials to Forrest dwindled. A  bronze equestrian statue was removed from a Memphis city park;  his name was stripped from a Murfreesboro school; after a long controversy, a bust was removed from the state Capitol; the last Nathan Bedford Forrest Day was celebrated in 2019. And in a bizarre, David-Lynch-like saga, even the remains of Forrest and his wife Mary Anne have been secretly dug up and reburied several times, their sordid histories following them. This summer, after at least three cemeteries declined to accept them, they were buried again at the National Confederate Museum "for what everyone hopes will be the last time." At the ceremony, Forrest's casket was draped with a Confederate flag.

(Abby Zimet has written CD's Further column since 2008. A longtime, award-winning journalist, involved in women's, labor, anti-war, social justice and refugee rights issues.)