Whatever happened to the body of KKK Wizard, civil war criminal and slave trader, Memphis’ Nathan Bedford Forrest?


Because I have been on Facebook with pictures of our travels to Memphis, a friend asked about to body of Lt. General Nathan Bedford Forrest.

This goes back to the controversy at my final NEA Representative Assembly in Orlando in 2015.

Following the killing of nine African American members of the historic Charleston AME Church in 2015 by a white supremacist, a movement emerged that demanded the removal of Confederate flags and symbols from public places.

I offered up a New Business Item at the Orlando RA that called on the NEA to support these efforts. It passed the Representative Assembly after a lengthy two hour debate and after being significantly watered down.

The NBI was ignored for the following year. And then after a year all New Business Items go the way of New Kids on the Block. 

They vanish from public view.

In 2013 the Memphis city council passed a resolution to rename three city parks before the Tennessee legislature could pass a measure to prevent such efforts.

There was a demand to remove the body of Confederate Civil War Lt. General Nathan Bedford Forrest from a city park. Forrest was a slave trader, a war criminal and Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.

The Memphis city fathers want the body removed. They appear justifiably embarrassed by his placement in such a prominent location.

The city has been blocked from removing the remains by the State of Tennessee and the Tennessee Historical Commission.

This morning Anne and I visited a home that was a station on the Underground Railroad. The House was owned and established as a station for runaway slaves by a German immigrant, Jacob Burkle. We explored the secret entrance and the basement hideaway. The house sits a few blocks from the Mississippi river and was identified by fugitive slaves by the huge Magnolia trees that sat in front of the white house, visible at the time from the Mississipi.

A historic marker placed by the same Tennessee Historical Commission that wants to keep Forrest’s remain in a city park claims the story of the role of the house as a station in the Underground Railroad is folklore.

The Burkle house was a station on the Underground Railroad and is not folklore.

“Forrest’s relocation (from a family plot in 1905) to the center of town was an explicit reassertion of white supremacy,” wrote Charles McKinney, associate professor of history at Rhodes College. “It was an act that put a growing black community on notice that both its presence and progress would be greatly contested.”

And so it remains.

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