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  11:01 p.m. July 9, 2015
Memphis city leaders vote to exhume body of Confederate General
By Michael Williams

general nathan bedford forrest
Gravesite of Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest will be exhumed and moved. Image courtesy of

In an attempt to expunge any and all reminders of the city's Confederate history, the Memphis City Council voted unanimously Tuesday, July 7 to remove a statue honoring Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest and exhuming the bodies of the general and his wife, Mary. Forrest's body currently rests in Health Sciences Park which was previously known as Forrest Park in honor of the General. Forrest was a Confederate cavalry officer who was instrumental in the founding of the Ku Klux Klan in the post war reconstruction era.

The proposal to remove the general's monument and grave are in response to the June 17, 2015 shooting that claimed the lives of nine parishioners at the Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C. The shooter, Dylann Roofe, had posted his photos on social media posing with the Confederate Battle flag known as the St. Andrew's Cross.

The city council voted to move the bodies to a private cemetery and take down the statue depicting the general on horseback although no action has been taken as of yet for the removal.

“Nathan Bedford Forrest is a symbol of bigotry and racism, and those symbols have no place on public property,” said Council Chairman Myron Lowery in published reports. “What we’re doing here in Memphis is no different from what’s happening across the country.”

The decision is being met with stiff opposition from historical preservation groups and the Sons of the Confederacy who have begun a campaign of soliciting the support of state legislators to preserve the monument. Supporters of the city resolution may find themselves staging an uphill battle. According to State Senator Steve Southerland, of District 1, the Forrest monument and graves and other Confederate vestiges are protected under the state's Heritage Preservation Act of 2013.

"They (The Memphis City Council) should have to comply with state law," said Southerland. "That monument and the graves are a part of history. The war was not about slavery," said Southerland. "They were fighting for states' rights. We are still fighting for states’ rights today."

Forrest was a Memphis native who was regarded as one of the greatest cavalry generals in history. Although, he was instrumental in the founding of the KKK as a fraternal organization to oppose reconstruction, Forrest disbanded the organization in 1869 when he felt the organization had drifted from its original intent and became too violent. However, many local groups continued their activities after Forrest disavowed the organization.

In July of 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.

At this, his last public appearance, he made what the New York Times described as a "friendly speech" during which, he was presented with a bouquet of flowers and a kiss on the cheek by an African-American woman. He accepted them as a token of reconciliation between the races and espoused an agenda of equality and harmony between black and white Americans. During his speech he was quoted as saying:

"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. I want to elevate you to take positions in law offices, in stores, on farms, and wherever you are capable of going."

To pass the ordinance the city must have three readings of the ordinance. A Tennessee court and the state historic commission would still have to approve the removal of the graves as well as members of the Forrest family. The SCV is vowing to fight the removal and will observe Gen. Forrest's birthday on July 12 at 2 p.m.

Published July 9, 2015

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