Photo: Nathan Bedford Forrest grave and memorial in Nathan Badford Forrest Park on Union Ave in Memphis, Tennessee.
Photo Credit: Thomas R Machnitzki / GNU Free Documentation License, ver 1.2
Published June 14, 2021
The Tennessee Conservative Staff –
The remains of Nathan Bedford Forrest and his wife have been taken to a vault in West Tennessee after being exhumed from Health Sciences Park in Memphis.
A press conference was held Friday just outside the park. Shelby County Commissioner Van Turner, Sons of Confederate Veterans spokesperson Lee Millar and Shelby County Election Commissioner Brent Taylor discussed the move. Taylor served as the funeral director overseeing the removal.
The project to remove the Confederate general’s remains began on June 1. It was expected to be completed within two to three weeks.
The remains were located by workers on Monday morning. An official announcement was not made until Friday, allowing workers adequate time to ensure that all artifacts from the area had been found and removed.
The statue of Forrest had been removed in December 2017. Both the remains and the statue are planned for reassembly and interment at the National Confederate Museum at Elm Springs in Columbia, Tennessee.
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Millar described the dig as a “tedious process”, explaining that it was expected that the remains would be found directly under the statue, but the construction crew soon found that they were much deeper than expected.
A “Victorian cradle” was found with Forrest’s initials, leading crews to the actual location of the remains. Forrest’s casket was intact, but his wife’s casket had deteriorated a great deal. Her remains were placed in a temporary casket.
Turner noted that the removal would have taken place last year, but the pandemic caused court dates regarding the issue to be postponed. It is anticipated that the final steps of the project should be completed by July 1.
Health Sciences Park, formerly known as Forrest Park, was purchased by Memphis Greenspace from the city of Memphis. Turner says there have not yet been any discussions about the placement of a new statue where the old equestrian one stood.
“Let’s just let the park breath, let’s relax a little bit and enjoy the park,” Turner said. “We’re going to leave it up to the Memphians and the Shelby Countians.”
Descendants of Forrest were on site to view the discovery of the caskets. Millar stated that the family felt relief once the remains were found and looked forward to them being in a safe location.
Photographs of the discovery were taken, but Taylor says those photos will most likely remain private for the Forrest family.
“We wanted this process to be respectful, to be something that healed divisions,” said Turner.
Turner also addressed the fact that a Juneteenth celebration is planned for the park. He called it a “full circle” moment, celebrating emancipation at a location that did not allow Black people at one time.
“I think the Forrest family wanted the remains of their ancestor to rest in peace,” Turner went on to say, “because there was never going to be peace here.”
The project was not completely without conflict, however.
Shelby County Commissioner Teri Sawyer was harassed by a worker as she spoke with the media. Police reports state that 46-year-old George “K-Rack” Johnson waved a Confederate flag, sang “Dixie” and directed a number of vulgar comments towards her.
Sawyer pressed charges, and Johnson was charged with misdemeanor assault. He has since been arrested and released.
Despite this issue, Turner says that he is pleased that the two political sides worked together because the tensions surrounding the park “could have been a disaster.”
“We have not had the issues other cities have had,” Taylor said. “We did this right.”