“NASHVILLE — God knows I didn’t visit the Tennessee State Museum last week to pay my respects to the bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest, but while I was there I figured I might as well take a look. It’s been quite a year for the Confederate general, slave trader and grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.
In June, Forrest’s remains were disinterred from their burial site in Memphis and transported across the state to the new National Confederate Museum in Columbia, Tenn. The transfer was the result of years of activists’ efforts to rid largely Black Memphis — where Martin Luther King Jr., of course, was assassinated — of any remnants of Forrest’s legacy there.
“It’s like a burden has been lifted,” Van D. Turner, a Shelby County commissioner, told The Associated Press. “It just gives us breath.”
The next month, the giant bust of Forrest was removed from the Tennessee State Capitol, where it has been generating controversy since it was installed in 1978. It was reinstalled in the Tennessee State Museum in a small temporary gallery adjacent to a permanent exhibition about Tennessee’s role in the Civil War and Reconstruction. Forrest’s role as a slave trader and Ku Klux Klan leader, among other depredations, is clearly explained in the permanent exhibition, and this historical context is very different from the place of honor the bust occupied in the Capitol. Visitors to the Tennessee State Museum, learn exactly who Nathan Bedford Forrest really was and exactly which evil he fought to preserve.