Remains of Klan leader to be removed from Memphis Park for Juneteenth celebration

“Having him there was like having him dance on our graves."

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The remains of Ku Klux Klan leader Nathan Bedford Forrest will be removed from a Memphis park ahead of a Juneteenth celebration.

The Sons of Confederate Veterans have hired workers to dig up Forest’s body. The remains, along with a statue of the Confederate general, will be moved 200 miles away to the National Confederate Museum, according to The New York Times. The excavation may take several weeks but the goal is to have it completed ahead of a planned Juneteenth celebration in the park where Forrest and his wife are buried. 

If the process is not complete by June 19 holiday, the event will still take place at the park known as Health Sciences Park, according to Michalyn Easter-Thomas of the Memphis City Council, Mediaite reports.

“Having him there was like having him dance on our graves, the graves of our ancestors,” Easter-Thomas said. “You can go quietly. We won’t miss you.”

Forrest was a former slave trader and the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan from 1867 to 1869. The general and his wife has been entombed in the park for more than 100 years. 

“The Forrest family felt that the remains of Forrest and his wife should be some place where he can be respected, protected, and visited without any danger, which is not the case here,” said Lee Millar with the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

“And so we’re out here working together to get this job done,” said Van Turner, President of Memphis Greenspace, which owns the park. “And I think it sends a message that we’re much stronger when we work together and we unite for one common task.”

Black residents have demanded for decades that the city exhume the body and eject it from the park. The Forrest statue was removed three years ago. 

“We are a city that loves and wants unity,” said Telisa Franklin, organizer of the Juneteenth Festival in the park. “And so it’s going to take white people, Black people, Chinese people. I don’t care what your culture is, what your background is. Juneteenth means freedom and you are free. Who the Son sets free is free indeed,” she told WMC Action News 5. 

Acknowledged annually on June 19, the former regional holiday provokes celebration in Black communities nationwide. Juneteenth, a portmanteau of the calendar date, is rooted in Texas and commemorates the ending of slavery. The homegrown holiday’s Southern beginnings have evolved into a day of recognition for freedom and legacy in African American communities, theGrio reported.  

On June 19, 1865, the enslaved people in Galveston, Texas were informed of the Emancipation Proclamation two-and-a-half years after former President Abraham Lincoln signed the historical act. According to the National Museum Of African American History and Culture, approximately 2,000 troops, lead by General Gordon Grange, arrived in the southern state announcing the freedom of over 250,000 enslaved slaves.

The Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s inspired a resurgence in Juneteenth festivities. In 1980, the state of Texas became the first to recognize Juneteenth as an official holiday.

This story contains additional reporting from theGRIO’s DeMicia Inman.

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