The remains of a Confederate general and his wife might be removed from a park in Memphis, Tenn., after his descendants dropped a lawsuit against the city this week, according to reports.
Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, a repudiated slave owner and early Ku Klux Klan leader who fought in the Civil War, as well as his wife, Mary Ann, are buried in Health Sciences Park. A monument of Forrest that stood nearby was taken down in 2017 after the city of Memphis got around legal hurdles preventing its removal by selling part of the parklands to the non-profit Memphis Greenspace.
Direct-line descendants of Forrest as well as the Sons of Confederate Veterans, a non-profit, dropped their lawsuit against the city of Memphis and Memphis Greenspace this week, the Columbia Daily Herald reported.
In this Aug. 18, 2017, photo, a statue of Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest sits in a park in Memphis, Tenn. A city council in Tennessee plans to consider four different ways to deal with the growing uproar over the existence of two statues of Confederate leaders at city parks. (AP Photo/Adrian Sainz, File)
The family will search for a “proper burial site” if court orders allow the remains to be exhumed in Memphis, sais their attorney, Edward Phillips. It has not been decided where the remains will be laid to rest.
“The issue (of removing the bodies) has been settled through agreement,” Phillips said. “We are now ready to move forward with a joint petition in regard to the graves. This paves the way for dealing with grave sites of Gen. Forrest and his wife in an effective, efficient manner but also in a manner that ensures the utmost respect and reverence to this process. We are talking about a family gravesite.”
A settlement reached between both parties last year gave possession of the Forrest statue, as well as two others removed from the park in 2017 — Confederacy President Jefferson Davis and General James Mathis — to be transferred to the Sons of Confederate Veterans Dec. 12, WMC reported.
The group said it plans to re-erect the monuments, but did not specify a location. Forrest’s remains, as well as his bronze statue estimated at $676,000, might be incorporated in a memorial at the new, privately owned Confederate museum on the Sons of Confederate Veterans’ Elm Springs property in Columbia, according to the Herald.
“I am very happy that we have been able to resolve this matter, and I am very hopeful for the future of these two parks,” Memphis Greenspace President Van Turner said this week.
“They don’t have to worry about further protests, further potential vandalism of the monuments,” Turner told WREG. “As an American, as a defender of the Constitution, it is their right to do so, to freely express their views. It’s my right as an American to not support that, to not visit it.”
A spokesperson for the plaintiffs, Lee Millar, said the December settlement “gives us permission and clear ownership to all the Confederate items in the two parks.”
Forrest and his wife have been laid to rest in the gated cement tomb in the Health Sciences Park since 1904, when their bodies were moved from Memphis Elmwood Cemetery in the era of Jim Crow law. First called the Nathan Bedford Forrest Park, the name was changed in 2013.
Following controversy and protests, the city of Memphis sought a waiver in 2015 from the Tennessee Heritage Protection Act, the law that requires authorization before the removal, relocation, or renaming of a memorial, to remove the statues of Forrest, Davis and Mathis. The Tennessee Historical Commission rejected the request, so the Memphis City Council then approved the sale of parklands to the Memphis Greenspace, to circumvent the Heritage Protection Act and have the statues removed anyway.