By Steve McMorran
A statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest that became the focus of a debate over Confederate symbols was removed on Saturday on land in Tennessee owned by the Cherokee Nation.
The statue, featuring an imposing likeness of the leader of the Ku Klux Klan and born near the town of Opelika, had been in place for several decades on the land where the James River meets the Cumberland River. The last patch of land on the property – a wedge-shaped ridge that borders the river — belongs to the Cherokee Nation.
Since July, the 1.5-ton piece of granite and bronze has been abandoned on the narrow 100-foot-long ledge. Most of the ridge has been taken over by trees. Residents of the rural area complained that the statue’s presence belittled their efforts to put a river-side park and community center there.
“The removal of the statue can provide an opportunity for reconciliation, healing and healing of the land of Cherokee Indians and the Republic of Tennessee, which was destroyed in the Civil War,” said Cherokee Nation Representative David Floyd in a statement.
In 2013, Congress passed the Civil War Legacy Act to turn the federal land over to the Cherokee Nation. In a move to honor those giving of their lives to the Confederacy, Congress gave the Cherokee Nation a certificate allowing the tribe to erect a statue honoring Forrest on that land. Forrest commanded the armed troops that captured Chattanooga in 1864.
To understand the Confederate statehood effort is to understand that Robert E. Lee’s Army fought on the fringe of federal territorial forces that attempted to capture Charleston during the battle for the South’s seat of power. Some Confederate leaders and some states embraced secession or recalcitrance, hoping the federal army would capitulate under political pressure.
Forrest, though, wanted to remain part of the Union government, even while appearing to facilitate and exploit the Confederacy’s secession.
Thought to be the grand wizard of the KKK, Forrest wasn’t blacklisted as part of the national anti-racist movement after the end of the Civil War because many white Southerners saw him as a respected leader. For as long as Congress has owned the land, attempts to make an announcement to the Cherokee Nation about the statue’s removal had been met with opposition.
Numerous news outlets covered the news of the statue’s removal on Saturday as well as the story of Forrest, but by Sunday afternoon only The Associated Press and The Washington Post had covered the news in depth.