There is a gilded fiberglass statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest off Highway 65 in Tennessee, just south of Nashville. It is on Bill Dorris’s property. Bill Dorris is a realtor in Nashville, Tennessee. When interviewed about his statue and its subject by Nashville Public Radio, Dorris said that “slavery was the first form of social security. Think about it. It was a cradle to the grave proposition. They never had it so good as far as job security. It wasn’t the best but it had benefits.” I guess that might be one way to look at slavery—or not. The statue was designed by the late sculptor and well-known White Separatist and League of the South founder Jack Kershaw. Kershaw is also remembered for being one of the defense team members for James Earl Ray, the man who assassinated Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in 1968. Of all the statues of Confederate heroes, villains, women, enslaved people, horses, and dogs, this has to be the worst statue anywhere. It ought to go away!
It resembles a human-like image that has been frozen a-la Han Solo, in carbonite. This apparition is mounted on what must have been a merry-go-round horse in a former life. Just now this steed and his rider are covered with streaks of pink/red paint from an incident of vandalism in 2017, although the statue has been shot at a total of five times and threatened with being hidden behind decorative highway hedges. Apparently, none of this bothers Mr. Dorris very much. For years, he has stood by his ugly statue, even refusing to remove the smears and drips of paint after the statue was ravaged. The iconic monsterpiece is on private land. That–and that alone–makes it impossible for the statue to be removed. Tennessee is stuck with it.
I find it sad to see statues of common southern soldiers—usually posed for by a strikingly attractive New York man modeling to help make ends meet—dragged down from their pedestals in towns wherein they were placed to remind people of the efforts made by white men to keep slavery legal in the South. But at least the majority of those statues are, without the politics, nice to look at. The statue of Forrest is NOT nice to look at in any way.
Forrest’s eyes bulge and his mouth, allegedly shouting “Follow Me!”, are impossible to look at without laughing. Now as I understand it, Nathan Bedford Forrest was a serious man. There are plenty of reasons for this. Being a Confederate general was never a very glamorous job, nor one that brought a lot of satisfaction. It is difficult to imagine ordering the shooting of USCT troops point-blank as they tried to surrender as being the type of activity that most people found especially fulfilling. Forrest’s statue is not inspiring in any way and doesn’t even represent Forrest very well. Perhaps one believes that Nathan Bedford Forrest deserves a statue. I might argue this: Confederate general, slave trader, Fort Pillow Massacre, KKK. But even if none of this is offensive to some people, this particular statue is, artistically, offensive to all.
The thing is just ugly, and it looks stupid. It does nothing to honor Forrest or the Confederacy. It is a three-dimensional cartoon of a frighteningly bad man, cast in fiberglass. I do not see how its continued existence is defensible. If I were a particularly snarky person, I would make rude comments about the artistic value of the edifice being about equal to the political value of secession, blah, blah–but I am not. I am just a person who thinks Kershaw’s statue, in particular, has neither artistic nor historical value. If statues must be removed, it ought to be for a good reason. By the same argument, there must be good reasons for statues to stay. As Elmer Ellsworth and John Hay often asked each other, “What think you?” I think it should go.