Ugly Nathan Bedford Forrest Statue
One Confederate statue that accurately reflects the ugliness of its subject.
This bizarre, deranged-looking depiction of General Nathan Bedford Forrest is a rare example of a Confederate monument that, rather than being sculpted with dignity and grace, accurately reflects the ugliness of its subject. However this was not the intent of sculptor Jack Kershaw—who is primarily known for defending the assassin of Martin Luther King Jr.—when he put it up in plain view of Tennessee’s Highway I-65.
Kershaw’s aim was actually to pay sincere homage to the general and all he stood for. What Forrest stood for was buying and selling Africans as slaves, leading soldiers on the side of a rebellion looking to preserve that way of life, and becoming the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. This is why there is more than one statue of him in Tennessee, and the others are more flattering.
Kershaw was not a great sculptor. His 25-foot tribute, with a gold-colored horse and silver-colored general, looks cartoonish. Forrest’s mouth is open and his teeth are bared, and combined with a deranged look in his sparkling blue eyes, he seems to be snarling or yipping. The head is disproportionate to the body.
Flanked by Confederate battle flags, the statue is on private land, so it cannot just be taken down by local authorities like other such statues. There have been calls for landscaping that would block the view of it from the nearby highway (when it was first put up, vegetation was cleared specifically so it would be visible) but TDOT specifically refused a Metro Nashville request citing a policy that plantings are never done to obscure private landowners property. People have also shot at it and tried to tear it down. In late 2017, the statue was painted pink by vandals. The owner chose to leave the new paint job, hoping it might actually draw more attention to the statue by passersby on I-65. Some have called for it to be protected, as an unintentionally appropriate monument to the kind of man who once said, “Somebody needs to say a good word for slavery.”
Update: The statue was taken down on December 7, 2021.
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