• Wed. Jan 26th, 2022

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Nathan Bedford Forrest statue along Interstate 65 taken down – Tennessean

The contentious Nathan Bedford Forrest statue that stood along Interstate 65 in Nashville for more than two decades  came down Tuesday.

The move comes just over a year after the owner of the statue died. Bill Dorris died in November 2020.

The statue of Forrest, located on private property alongside I-65 south of downtown, portrays the early Ku Klux Klan leader and former Confederate general riding a horse.

A security guard initially told reporters around 10:30 a.m. the statue would be hauled out through a gate off Hogan Road. About 20 minutes later, reporters were told the statue would not be moved but stored in a shed nearby.

The Nathan Bedford Forrest statue was removed along Interstate 65 on Tuesday, December 7, 2021, during in Nashville, Tenn.

A few vehicles left the site and the security guard locked the gate and drove away just before 11 a.m.

“This has been a national embarrassment,” state Sen. Heidi Campbell, D-Nashville, said at the scene of the removal. “I’m so excited. This is great news. It’s just so hurtful to people, not to mention it’s heinously ugly.”

Campbell had petitioned former Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration to take it down. 

Nashville’s Metro Council approved a resolution in July 2017 that asked the Tennessee Department of Transportation to plant vegetation to block the view of the privately owned statue.

The state quickly shot the request down.

Dorris’ will

It is unclear who ordered the statue to be taken down. No announcement regarding why it was taken down or what is next for it was made Tuesday. Dorris’ will has been negotiated in probate court since late last year.

It’s most likely the call came from the executor, according to an attorney involved in the probate case.

The statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest is surrounded by Confederate and state flags.

The will intended to leave certain real estate — including the Confederate flag display where the statue sat, an ice house and an artesian well — to the Sons of Confederate Veterans or a similar group, like the Battle of Nashville Trust. 

He also laid out plans to leave a collection of Gravely brand tractors to a museum and $5 million for the care of his dog, LuLu, a 12-year-old border collie.

The rest of his estate was willed to the Battle of Nashville Trust. But he didn’t have enough cash on hand when he died.

The executor of the will, Trenton Dean Watrous, has been charged with handling the estate while it remains before the court.

Watrous could not immediately be reached for comment.

Dorris’ estate still owns the Hogan Road property where the statue sits. Under the terms of the will, the Sons of Confederate Veterans would retain the deed to the specific sections of the Hogan Road property where the statue sat as long as they keep it in good condition.

At this stage, the question of who will get the property remains unclear, Sons of the Confederate Veterans attorney Doug Jones confirmed. The ice house and well are old structures, likely dating from at least the Civil War era, and the area is somewhat dangerous for visitors. 

Jones told The Tennessean he was aware the statue was in poor condition from weathering and vandalism and had been working with the executor on what to do next. 

But they didn’t get a call before the removal crew arrived Tuesday morning. 

“We do not agree with taking down any statues,” Jones said. “But at the same time, it’s on private property and certainly the executor legally has that right to make that call. 

“He’s charged with, under the law, with the duty to protect the property and to protect the public. That’s a place that people could get hurt.”

Jones said he was unsure if the statue was in a repairable state even if anyone did want to try to put it up elsewhere. The statue is made of thin material that has suffered during the years it has been on display. 

Watrous did successfully petition the court earlier this year to bring the LuLu trust down to $30,000 to cover her care through the end of her life.

The plan was to sell a trailer park on Hill Road that Dorris owned to satisfy debts against the estate, according to a court order filed in August.

Companies 710 Hill Partners and Riverside Park, two Tennessee-based general partners, agreed to buy the property for $690,000 in August, and the sale was finalized in October, property records show.

Court documents show a tense relationship between the executor and Dorris before his death, as well as a claim the original will was missing for nearly a month after his death.

An attorney for family members involved in the court proceedings, Cathryn Armistead, said Watrous once tried to “lure” Dorris to a care facility, causing a “breakdown in relations” between the pair.

Watrous’ attorneys, led by John P. Rodgers, denied there was any wrongdoing in a back-and-forth over attorney fees.

Confederate Reckoning:The South grapples with its past

Contested memorials

Nathan Bedford Forrest statue off I-65 was vandalized, painted pink on Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2017.

Dorris’ Forrest memorial has been shot at six times and vandalized other times, he told The Tennessean in 2017.

The statue was vandalized and painted pink that same year.

Before the 2016 presidential election, someone placed a sign that read “Trump 2016, Make AMERIKKKA Great Again” on a fence on state right-of-way property near the statue. State officials removed the sign shortly afterward.

The memorial is not the only contested one in the state.

In July, a bust of Forrest installed in the Tennessee Capitol was removed from the building, loaded onto a truck and driven away.

A crew of workers delivered the bust to the Tennessee State Museum, where it is on display with additional context about Forrest’s life.

The removal of the Forrest bust followed years of protests and pressure by activists.

Also in July, the Sons of Confederate Veterans reinterred Forrest’s remains in Columbia.

Almost 2,500 people attended the privately held reinterment ceremony — only attended by members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and their families. It marked an end to a saga of legal proceedings sparked when a statue depicting the general and slave owner on horseback was removed from Health Science Park in Memphis by the Memphis Greenspace nonprofit in 2017.

“Slavery was horrible,” Jones said Tuesday. “It’s a black mark on our country. It will always be a stain. I understand that. But what I’m talking about is history — ugly history, good history, all history. And we don’t want to see that destroyed.”

That statue was acquired by the Sons of Confederate Veterans in 2019.

Natalie Neysa Alund is based in Nashville at The Tennessean and covers breaking news across the South for the USA TODAY Network. Reach her at nalund@tennessean.com and follow her on Twitter @nataliealund.