Klan founder’s bust moved from Tenn. House chamber

ERIK SCHELZIG
Associated Press
January 7, 2010

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A bust of Civil War general and early Ku Klux Klan leader Nathan Bedford Forrest has been moved from outside the doors of the Tennessee House chamber but still remains in a place of prominence on the main floor of the state Capitol.

The rearrangement of the Capitol busts was spurred by a new bust to honor Sampson W. Keeble, the state’s first black lawmaker who served in the House from 1873 to 1874. The likeness of Keeble is meant to serve as a "commemorative emblem" to all 14 black lawmakers who served in the 19th century.

Until Wednesday, the busts outside the House chamber were of Forrest and Union Adm. David G. Farragut, who in 1864 famously ordered "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!" as he led his fleet to victory in the Battle of Mobile Bay, Ala.

The busts of the two Tennesseans facing each other were meant to represent the two sides in the Civil War, Tennessee State Museum Director Lois Riggins-Ezell said.

Riggins-Ezell said lawmakers wanted instead to have the busts of two prominent former House members placed outside the chamber: former presidents James K. Polk and Andrew Johnson.

The Farragut and Forrest busts have now been moved to the main corridor between the House and Senate chambers, and lawmakers will have a direct view of Forrest as they step off the express elevator from the legislative office complex.

Born poor in Chapel Hill, Tenn., in 1821, Forrest amassed a fortune as a plantation owner and slave trader in Memphis until enlisting as a 40-year-old private in the Confederate army at the outset of the Civil War. He rose to become a cavalry general within a year.

Some accounts accused Forrest of ordering black prisoners to be massacred after a victory at Tennessee’s Fort Pillow in 1864, though the extent of his responsibility is disputed.

In 1867, the newly formed Klan elected Forrest its honorary Grand Wizard or national leader, but he publicly denied being involved. In 1869, he ordered the Klan to disband because of the members’ increasing violence.

Two years later, a congressional investigation concluded his involvement had been limited to his attempt to disband it.

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