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Removal of Nathan Bedford Forrest’s remains underway at Memphis park

Updated: Jun. 1, 2021 at 10:25 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - There was confrontation Tuesday as crews started to relocate the Memphis graves of Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest and his wife.

Their remains will be removed from Health Sciences Park in the Medical District and moved to another location outside Shelby County.

The process is now officially underway to relocate his tomb. It will likely not be completed before the Juneteenth Festival, a celebration of the emancipation of slaves, taking place in the park June 18 and June 19.

The former slave trader and with his wife have been entombed in the park for more than 100 years. Moving them is a complicated procedure that will take weeks to complete.

“The Forrest family felt that the remains of Forrest and his wife should be some place where he can be respected, protected, and visited without any danger, which is not the case here,” said Lee Millar with the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

It’s been three years since the general’s statue was removed from the pedestal. Years of legal wrangling followed until both sides reached this settlement. Memphis Greenspace owns the park. Its leader is pleased with the outcome.

“And so we’re out here working together to get this job done,” said Memphis Greenspace President Van Turner. “And I think it sends a message that we’re much stronger when we work together and we unite for one common task.”

That unity was interrupted by a very vocal volunteer who unloaded expletives on Shelby County Commissioner Tami Sawyer at the site.

She led the ‘Take ‘Em Down 901’ effort in 2017 to remove the statue. She spoke with reporters as the man belted out a loud rendition of “Dixie” behind her.

“We are not post-racial America,” said Sawyer. “We are not post-racial Memphis. This hatred and this racism is large and loud.”

In three weeks, this same park will host the Juneteenth Festival, celebrating the emancipation of slaves. Organizer Telisa Franklin says Memphis will be celebrating much more than that.

“We are a city that loves and wants unity,” Franklin told WMC Action News 5. “And so it’s going to take white people, black people, Chinese people. I don’t care what your culture is, what your background is. Juneteenth means freedom and you are free. Who the Son sets free is free indeed.”

The remains of the former KKK leader and his wife will be reburied and the statue placed at the National Confederate Museum at Elm Springs in Columbia, Tennessee.

Millar said the volunteer who shouted at Sawyer will not be back. Sawyer confirmed to WMC Action News 5 that she did file a police report.

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