Nashville, Tennessee is known for its country music scene, soul food such as hot chicken, and is quickly becoming one of the trendiest cities in the country. Its desirable location in the mid-south means excellent weather year round, and access to major highways for budding businesses seeking ease for logistics. Along the major thoroughfare of I-65 you will often see vast queues of semi-trucks, and commuting traffic. You will also see a bizarre statue of a mounted Confederate. This grotesque golden monstrosity is a harrowing sight to behold. It is purported to be an artist’s rendering of Nathan Bedford Forrest, a founder and early leader of the Ku Klux Klan.
A bizarre statue of KKK founder Nathan Bedford Forrest looms in Nashville, Tennessee.
The sculptor responsible for creating the hideously malformed piece of “art” is Jack Kershaw. Kershaw was an amateur sculptor by night and a lawyer by day. He is infamous for defending James Earl Ray, the man who assassinated Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 4th, 1968 at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee.
Circa 1968. James Earl Ray (Left) who was tried and convicted of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., discusses his case with his attorney, Jack Kershaw (Right).
Kershaw chose to defend Ray, in large part, because he was a Southern secessionist and a segregationist. Kershaw would go in 1994 on to form the League of the South, a neo-confederate, white supremacist, and white nationalist group. He remained on the board for the League of the South until 2009.
(Left) A white background with a black “X” is the symbolic flag of the League of the South. (Right) Neo-confederate League of the South members display a half Confederate, half League of the South flag while performing the Nazi salute.
In recent years, the League of the South has openly supported violent white nationalism, such as their involvement with the alt-right, participation in the battle of Charlottesville (where the white nationalists attacked civilians and protesters alike).
League of the South and Neo-confederates stood with other white nationalist groups in the Battle of Charlottesville which resulted in the death of antiracist activist Heather Heyer.
League of the South has also stood and rallied with groups like the National Socialist Movement and Traditionalist Worker’s Party in Charlottesville and in Shelbyville, Tennessee.
Florida League of the South member, Michael Tubbs, stands in front of Traditionalist Worker’s Party Members (a neo-Nazi outfit spearheaded by Matthew Heimbach). White Nationalists in the back hold signs which read, “The Jewish Media is going down”.
After forming the League of the South, Kershaw built the Nathan Bedford Forrest statue in 1998 on private property owned by Nashville lawyer and business man, Bill Dorris. Dorris continues to this day to own and maintain the property and the statue. The genesis of the statue remains shrouded in mystery, but it is alleged that Kershaw started building it with a butcher’s knife and materials that Dorris had on hand to manufacture bathtubs.
Upon completing the statue, Kershaw was reported to have justified its creation with these salient words: “Somebody had to say a good word for slavery! Where in the world are the Negroes better off than today in America?” Kershaw was a career racist who the Southern Poverty Law Center calls, “A stalwart of white nationalism”. He attended Vanderbilt University and founded a group called the “Fugitive Poets of Vanderbilt” who wrote historically revisionist accounts of history which painted the South (and it’s defense of racism) in a more favorable light. Mercifully, in 2010, Kershaw finally died, leaving behind a legacy of racial hatred, not only as the pro-segregation lawyer who defended the murderer of an icon of justice and black liberation, but as one of the people who helped create a violent hate group that is a danger to the lives of many Southerners.
Contemporary League of the South members arm themselves for what they perceive as a “race war” which is critical for preserving their Southern nationalist culture.
Unfortunately, the statue was not hailed as a masterpiece, even by the man who commissioned it. Dorris is purported to have opined, “As an artist, Kershaw is mediocre. But as a thinker, he was way ahead of a lot of people in his time.” Dorris has also staunchly defended the statue and during a recent interview with Nashville Public Ratio insisted that he isn’t a racist, and this statue is a historical monument like any other. He invited the listeners to consider taking, “the Washington monument down, or at least let’s paint it black. Let’s burn Mount Vernon down. When you get through with it, you ain’t changed nothing. You haven’t cleansed anything.” Dorris is also known to spew other racist gems including “slavery is a form of social security for African Americans. A cradle-to-the-grave proposition.” He also espoused to Canada’s National Post paper, “The people against Confederate monuments in New Orleans are cane blacks and are probably illegals to start with!” When his racist views were challenged, Dorris sputtered, “Now if I was racist, why have I got so many blacks working for me?” And who could forget, Dorris’ declaration that “Slavery was never an issue. Nathan Bedford Forrest was not a racist.”
Despite their constant declarations that they are not “racists”, League of the South members unabashedly associate with racist imagery and fascist groups
Forrest and Kershaw may be gone, but the monument remains. The statue has stood as a stark reminder of a painful, genocidal past, and a commitment to upholding the symbols and the institutions of white supremacy. But this has not gone unchallenged. The statue has raised the ire of many local residents who find it objectionable. Prior to the recent presidential election, someone erected a sign directly in front of the horse’s feed which read, “Trump 2016: Make Amerikkka Great Again”. Over the years the statue has been shot at and vandalised (you would think that vandalism against this ugly thing is a Nashville tradition at this point). They have petitioned their mayors, the governor, and various governmental institutions to intervene and build noise-abatement walls or plant extensive shrubbery in an attempt to obscure the statue. All of these tactics have failed miserably.
This is unsurprising because decades of pleading for government officials to take down these symbols of white supremacy and racial genocide have largely been ignored by our elected representatives. However, it is interesting to note that direct actions including dismantling the monuments, defacing and vandalism, have proven very effective in part, because of the economic implications. Resurfacing or repairing monuments becomes a costly endeavor, and it becomes much more financially sensible to simply remove the target than to continue maintenance or replacement.
A confederate statue in Nashville was painted pink to protest valorizing the Confederacy.
To that end, autonomous direct action was taken against the Nathan Bedford Forrest statue in Nashville. The monument to a genocidal past (and commitment to continuing the racial hierarchy) was attacked and defaced with a rosy pink paint. This statue is not a symbol of history. It is a symbol of white supremacy and racial hatred, and it always has been. Those who maintain and lay devotion at the feed of these symbols would do well to dismantle them. Otherwise they can expect the people to do it of their own volition.