First His Statue and Now His Body?
It is fair to say that we live in interesting times, and even as COVID-19 rages throughout the world, huge social upheaval is also occurring. It is not a new form of social upheaval and has to do with racial relations and civil rights. This is how one of the latest and oddest lawsuit has been filed in relation to this matter.
It all began in 2018, when the Republican-dominated House in Tennessee decided to penalize the city of Memphis for allowing the removal of two monuments from city parks. The state government decided to eliminate $250k of the city’s budget. These funds had been earmarked for a bicentennial celebration in 2019, and the majority of state leadership felt it appropriate to cut the budget.
Why had the monuments been removed? The two Confederate statues, as well as a bust, depicted Confederate President Jefferson Davis as well as Confederate soldier Nathan Bedford Forrest. Forrest was the original founder and leader of the organization known as the Ku Klux Klan or KKK. Many felt it inappropriate to honor these figures and allow their statues to remain in public parks.
So, the Memphis city leadership decided to address the situation using a few legal loopholes. They sold the parks in which the monuments appeared to a nonprofit entity. Then, late one night, the monuments were swiftly removed.
The financial punishment that followed was in direct response to these actions.
Then, legislators in Memphis decided to go after the bodies of Forrest and his wife, interred in the Health Science Park. This prompted a lawsuit by the descendants of the once-celebrated Confederate general, as well as the Sons of Confederate Veterans organization.
The suit sought to halt the removal and reinternment of the bodies, but negotiations led to a different outcome. As reported by WREG in Memphis: “The terms are simple. The Sons of Confederate Veterans take possession of the two Civil War-related statues, along with all other items previously on public display,” while the general and his wife are removed to a new location.
The terms had, initially, been far more rigid. The nonprofit that took ownership (a group known as Memphis Greenspace) had initially sought to ban the monuments from remaining within the boundaries of the state. However, the Sons of Confederate Veterans received the statue of Forrest (which had been a grave marker for the general and his wife), and the new terms are that the statues cannot be relocated to another location within Shelby County.
And where will the remains of the Confederate general and his wife be moved? In an unusual twist in the tale, it is noted that it is the second time they have been re-interred. The general died in 1877, while his wife died almost 20 years later. He had been initially buried in Elmwood Cemetery alongside many of the Confederate veterans he led. This was by the terms of his will, and his wife was buried beside him.
However, the couple were first re-interred in 1905 when the park and monument honoring him were unveiled. Now, the statute is gone, and the burial site marked out by a chain-link fence. Citing the closing of courts during the coronavirus pandemic, the groups agree that the remains will be retrieved and relocated before the end of 2020.
It is believed that a new Forrest Park will be established, and the graves and statue restored there.
Buried, re-buried, moved, and re-buried again, the former Confederate general and his wife will hopefully remain out of the headlines in the future, and peacefully in their graves where they belong!