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Statue Of Civil War General Forrest Still Draws Fire


This morning we're continuing our summer road trip. A trip we're calling Honey, Stop the Car! It's that moment when you're driving along and spot something that makes you want to pull over. So far we've made stops in places including Colorado Springs, Colorado, Prescott, Arizona and Plainfield, Indiana.

Today, we make a stop near Nashville at a very controversial statue of a Civil War general and early member of the Ku Klux Klan. Blake Farmer of member station WPLN reports.

BLAKE FARMER: Now, this is a monument that's seen by thousands of people every day driving down Interstate 65 headed toward Nashville from the south, but it is not a monument that's designed to get up close to. In fact, you've got to find this hidden gravel road, and it's behind a gate with, let me count here, six padlocks on it.

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The padlocks are protection for this 25-foot tall statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest. The Confederate general is rearing on horseback with a saber raised over his head, surrounded by Confederate flags.�

While this tactical genius has admirers, his hard-charging style still draws fire literally. This statue has several bullet holes in it. Bill Dorris owns this little strip of land between the interstate and some train tracks.

Mr. BILL DORRIS: They tried to cut the legs off of it. They tried to pull it down with a train. That didn't work, twice.

FARMER: They tried to pull it down with a train?

Mr. DORRIS: This is the rope that was tied over the horse, and the other end was tied over the railroad track rail out there.

FARMER: The statue may be sturdy enough to take on a slow-rolling rail car, but it's no masterpiece. An eccentric lawyer and amateur sculptor named Jack Kershaw is responsible. He died last year.

Mr. DORRIS: As an artist, mediocre. As a thinker, he was way ahead of a lot of people in his time.

FARMERS: Kershaw was best known as an attorney to James Earl Ray, who was convicted of killing Martin Luther King Jr. Kershaw was also a friend to Bill Dorris, who has a business building bathtubs for the elderly.

Mr. DORRIS: Jack got some materials that I use to make bathtubs with. And he started with a butcher knife. That's the end result that you see out there right now.

FARMER: Hideous is a term some have used. Cartoonish would be fair. It's an odd homage to a storied cavalry officer who reportedly had 30 horses shot out from under him in battle.�

And the grin on Forrest's face masks the controversy of Fort Pillow, where many historians agree the Confederate general massacred black Union soldiers. And then there's his involvement in the early days of the Ku Klux Klan.�

To a lot of people, this monument is a symbol of racism.

Mr. DORRIS: Any monument is a symbol of racism if you are going to make it a symbol of racism.

FARMER: Dorris says this monument is not, which is why he's turned down requests from the KKK to hold rallies here. Instead, Dorris wants the statue to scream in a Rebel yell: The South has risen again.

For NPR News, I'm Blake Farmer in Nashville.

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MONTAGNE: Follow our ongoing road trip, Honey, Stop the Car! on MORNING EDITION and WEEKEND EDITION through the rest of the summer.

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This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.