A Statue That Really Ought to GO!

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.”[1] 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!

Sculptor and lawyer Jack Kershaw

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.

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[1] https://crooksandliars.com/2015/06/tennessee-business-owner-slavery-was-first

About Meg Groeling

CW Historian
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23 Responses to A Statue That Really Ought to GO!

  1. Meg, is Kershaw just punishing his neighbors or is he trying to say something from the Brutal school of statuary.

    • Meg Groeling says:

      Had Jack Kershaw done more than one statue (and one painting of his wife) I could understand, and one of the purposes of art is to bother people–sometimes good bothering, sometimes bad. Because Kershaw has no canon of work, I hesitate to give him more credit than he deserves. Good call tho–I haven’t talked art with anyone in a very long time!

  2. Alton Bunn says:

    I’m against pulling down statues just because it offends someone. As always there are exceptions and I agree it needs to go simply because its so hideous. If he was looking to offend everyone he succeeded.

  3. robertceltic says:

    Good analogy referencing Hans Solo in his frozen state. When the land owner moves on to the next great adventure, hopefully then will it come down.

  4. It is the most hideous thing in the entire Nashville area, and an actual traffic hazard. I am astonished that any of NBF’s fans tolerate this wretched thing.

    • Speaking as a retired real estate lawyer, I am surprised that any realtor would think such a hideous display on their property would be a financial advantage. Is “realtor” in this case just a synonym for “trust fund baby”. None of the realtors I have known in the past fifty years would choose an image that was likely to offend or even puzzle potential clients. They are normally a pretty conservative crowd, pitching themselves and their property carefully to offend as few as possible.

  5. Rhea Cole says:

    The Riders in the Sky song lyric, “…the cowboy went up & horse went down, they met on the old saddle horn.It made a deep impression, you could say it changed his life & that’s how the yodel was born.” comes to mind. The grotesque statue is a valid mirror of a certain kind set& for that reason, it should stand. About the only solace for died in the wool Forrest admirers is that the thing is surprisingly hard to see. Due to the lay of the land, I have driven past it many times w/o seeing it… or horror was just too great & I blanked it out of my memory.

  6. Katy Berman says:

    It is ludicrously hideous, but it is on private property, and that should be the end of it.

  7. John Pryor says:

    Statue is ugly. It’s on private property. As far as the legal defense matter, even Satan deserves a lawyer. It’s one of those constitutional things Lincoln claims he was fighting for. And as far as the aesthetic question, I’m sure we both have curtains that others find appalling.

  8. Dave Powell says:

    If the statue comes down, I will no longer be able to show people “the ugliest thing in the world.” I’ve gotten tremendous mileage out of that hunk of aluminum crap over the years. I currently tell people that Forrest was a space alien, and I have the proof.

  9. Donald Smith says:

    There is a statue of Lenin, on private property, in Seattle. Meg, why don’t you and your progressive friends get your priorities straight?

    “I do not see how its continued existence is defensible.” It’s on private property. The owner owns it. YOU do not. You really don’t get that? Do the parents of your students know that you don’t understand, or care about, the concept of private property?

    The Virginia Flaggers have covered Virginia with Confederate flags on private property. If you don’t like that, I invite you to approach them directly and express your displeasure. I’m confident they’ll tell you to sod off. After reading this post of yours, I’m sending them more money for a new flag!

    I suspect you posted this to pick a fight. OK, I’ll fight. You’re unhappy with this particular statue of Forrest? Fine! Use Google or Bing Maps to find another road. Focus on whatever song is on the radio for the 15 seconds while you drive by it.

    If this particular statue of Forrest, or any other Confederate figure, makes you unhappy, that is your problem. Not mine, and not its owner’s.

    • Donald Smith says:

      Allow me to revise and extend my remarks. “Fight” is too strong of a word. (“I suspect you posted this to pick a fight. OK, I’ll fight.”) A word like “argument” would have been better. So, if I could, I’d revise the sentence to this: “I suspect you posted this to start an argument? OK, I’ll argue.”

    • Rhea Cole says:

      Thanks for the very amusing posting. I enjoy the god awful Forrest statue because it is the only thing I know of that unites both Forrest worshipers & haters. Legal niceties aside, they both foam at the mouth in outrage at the travesty that thing surely represents.

    • Chris Mackowski says:

      Meg’s actually just trying to have a little fun, poking fun at the thing because it’s so ugly.

  10. bobjai says:

    The worst publicity is NO publicity – work at ignoring it – and/or –
    put a section of those concrete “noise barriers”, seen along many Interstates in populated areas, to spare motorists travelling I-65 from the site (being an Interstate maybe the Feds could make this happen if TN can’t/won’t)

  11. Mike Maxwell says:

    Just an observation…
    The expression on the statue’s face was captured on 12 FEB 1862, when Nathan Bedford Forrest was sent west to prevent Ulysses S. Grant from reaching Fort Donelson… and discovered that Grant had already arrived.

  12. mattmckeon says:

    It was placed by Forrest’s enemies. As long as it exists, the general’s memory will be defiled, and he will shake his fist impotently from Hell.

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