Controversial Commemoration: Remembering the Varied Legacies of Nathan Bedford Forrest

By Logan Tapscott ’14

Over the winter break, I participated in an immersion trip to Alabama to learn about the Civil Rights Movement and visited cities like Birmingham, Montgomery, and Selma that played an important part in the movement. Despite the past, I did not expect to encounter such a racially charged atmosphere fifty years after the push for desegregation and equality in the South. I also did not anticipate a controversy over a statue dedicated to Nathan Bedford Forrest. Forrest was born in 1821 in Tennessee and, with no military education, was later promoted Lieutenant General and became a controversial figure in the American Civil War. Historians and Civil War scholars continue to debate Forrest’s complex legacy. While famous for sending a Confederate division to what is referred to as the Fort Pillow Massacre in 1864, Forrest was regarded as an important commander for his guerilla warfare-style tactics and for creating and practicing the doctrine and tactics of mobile warfare. Throughout the former states of the Confederacy, mostly throughout Tennessee, people have erected statues of him and named public spaces after him. In the past ten years, people have debated about Forrest’s legacy and whether a commemoration is suitable, especially in Southern cities with a predominately black population, including Selma, Alabama.

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