Construction of expanded Forrest monument halted

Published 11:16 pm Thursday, August 23, 2012

An impromptu meeting at Selma City Hall may very well have pressed the pause button on the heated debate involving the construction of an expanded monument area dedicated to Confederate soldiers and Confederate General Nathan B. Forrest in Selma’s Live Oak Cemetery.

Selma Mayor George Evans confirmed Thursday night that he, State Sen. Hank Sanders, Selma City Attorney Jimmy Nunn and an attorney representing the group constructing the monument met earlier in the day to discuss the escalating protests and rhetoric involving the monument dedicated to Forrest.

“Both sides have agreed to let the issue of who owns the property the monument is being built to be decided in court,” Evans said. “I think this is the best possible solution and allows everyone to stand down for the moment.”

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Thursday morning, citizens protesting the monument’s expansion reportedly disrupted construction efforts, resulting in the Selma Police Department being called to the scene to help restore order.

Forrest, who was commanding officer of the Confederate troops defending Selma during the latter stages of the Civil War, is also known as one of the original leaders of the Ku Klux Klan, which is one of the reasons protestors want the monument removed.

But, at the heart of the debate is whether the property the monument to Forrest and a monument to Confederate soldiers rests on is public property or private property owned by the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

The City of Selma has been able to confirm that during an April 17, 1877 city council meeting, the city donated an acre of land “in the central part of the addition lately purchased to [Live Oak Cemetery] upon which to erect a monument to the memory of the Confederate dead” to the Confederate Memorial Association, which in later years became the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

According to the meeting’s minutes, members of the council approved the donation, but it appears now that no deed was ever prepared nor transferred to the Association.

Today, an organization called the Friends of Forrest is in the midst of an extensive upgrade to the memorials and the construction of an elevated pedestal to house the Forrest monument.

All of this construction — which includes fencing and other security measures — stems from a theft earlier this year of the monument’s bronze bust of Forrest. The bust has not been recovered and police continue to investigate its theft.

Since then, the Friends of Forrest have arranged for a new bust to be cast and the new pedestal area to be constructed.

It is that construction and expansion that is being protested.

“Their supposed ownership of the property is something that [United Daughters of the Confederacy] will now have to prove in court,” Sanders said. “I would not say that an agreement was reached, but I will say that it is good that construction has been halted.”

Now that construction has been halted, Sanders believes those protesting the monument will leave the cemetery.

“In the end, I am glad that everyone was able to find a way — together — to come to this decision; that everyone will let the court’s decide who owns this property,” Evans said. “

The Times-Journal was unable to reach the attorney who reportedly represented the Friends of Forrest in Thursday’s meeting.