Bust of Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest missing in Selma
Monday, March 26, 2012
The Associated Press
It's a question making the rounds in Selma since earlier this month, when a bronze bust of Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest vanished from atop a 7-foot-tall granite monument at Live Oak Cemetery.
Sons of Confederate Veterans members were outraged when it happened and have been busy raising reward money to see if loose lips just might sink the culprit's ship.
Attorney Faya Rose Toure, the most vocal Forrest critic in Selma, said she didn't have anything to do with the disappearance, but she is happy it happened and even volunteered to defend the guilty party or parties — if caught — "free of charge."
"(Forrest) was a domestic terrorist, and I think the man who took (the bust) did us all a favor," said Toure, formerly known as Rose Sanders, the wife of state Sen. Hank Sanders, D-Selma.
Selma Police Chief William Riley said an investigation is continuing into the theft, but no arrests have been made.
The bust, kept in the cemetery's Confederate Circle, apparently was taken on the night of March 9, but no one noticed it was missing for a few days.
Copper and bronze have frequently been stolen from houses and businesses in Selma and taken to junk yards for cash. The swiping of the bust may not have been done for monetary reasons, however.
That's because of the way it was stolen. No sledgehammer was used to knock it off the granite monument. It had been carefully removed from the top, leaving behind eight holes where it had been bolted to the base.
The Forrest memorial had a history in Selma long before the bust was removed from the cemetery.
In October 2000, the monument was erected in front of the Smitherman Building, formerly a Confederate hospital and now a museum. It didn't take long for angry black residents to begin calling for the monument's removal. Protesters dumped garbage on it, and demonstrators tried to yank it off the heavy base.
"Jews would not tolerate a statue of Hitler in their neighborhood and what they put up in our neighborhood back then was pretty much the same thing," Toure said. "Descendants of those who enslaved us insist on honoring someone with Klan connections."
The City Council voted to move the monument from outside the building to the city cemetery in 2001, but Toure said the bust still has "no place" on public property.
A group called "The Friends of Forrest" raised the $25,000 to pay for the monument, saying it represents a man of honor, gallantry and military leadership. In Ken Burns' acclaimed TV documentary, "The Civil War," historian Shelby Foote noted that America's bloodiest war produced "two authentic geniuses — Abraham Lincoln and Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest."
Forrest and his weary troops arrived in Selma in the waning days of the Civil War, knowing they didn't have a chance as they were outnumbered by Union cavalry bent on punishing the city, one of only two arms manufacturing centers in the Confederacy. The city bore the brunt of a punitive Union raid on April 2, 1865.
After losing the Battle of Selma, Forrest returned to Tennessee and resumed his successful business activities. Along the way he also helped to organize the Ku Klux Klan.
Members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans view Forrest as a hero of the first order, a brave leader known as the "Wizard of the Saddle." Critics say "wizard" was an apt description, as in Grand Wizard of the Klan.
Forrest resigned from the Klan when he felt it had become too violent and disbanded it at the same time. That didn't erase the fact that he had been a Klan leader.
The Battle of Selma is commemorated every April in an event held not far from the actual site of the clash. Re-enactors from across the country come to town to re-create one of the last battles of the Civil War.
James Hammonds, who has helped direct the re-enactment each year and supplies his own artillery unit, said Forrest has been acknowledged "as one of the best fighting generals to come out of the Civil War on either side." Hammonds said he has told the police chief the "re-enacting community" has had a "keen interest" in the investigation "and I think he sees this as an economic crime."
"I have personal knowledge that material salvage crime is rampant in this area of town," Hammonds said. "We should do more to interpret and protect our great resource at Live Oak Cemetery. I hope the bust is recovered or replaced."
Forrest devotees are expected to raise as much as $20,000 in reward money and announce it soon.
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