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Forrest Monument's Removal In Selma May Lead To Court
By Ed Ballam


SELMA, Ala. - A group that erected a monument to Nathan Bedford Forrest intends to file a federal lawsuit in early May against the city of Selma and its officials over their moving the monument from its original location to a Confederate cemetery. Monument sponsors say their legal and constitutional rights have been violated.

Last October, Friends of Forrest (FOF) erected the 7-foot granite monument, topped with a museum-quality cast bust of Forrest, on city-owned land in the courtyard of the Smitherman Building, a structure that once served as a Confederate hospital. The Smitherman building serves as a Confederate museum, housing the artifact rooms of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

In February, the city council voted to move the monument from this location in a predominantly black neighborhood to Confederate Circle in the Old Live Oak Cemetery. FOF members object because the site is a cemetery and Forrest is not buried there. Secondly, they say they went through all the proper channels and had approval for the Smitherman site.
Benjamin Austin of Selma, vice president of Friends of Forrest, an incorporated non-profit organization, said in a telephone interview with The Civil War News that FOF expected to file the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Mobile, Ala., in early May. Exact details of the suit were being worked out at presstime.

The case has the potential to be precedence setting, Austin said, noting that it could prevent officials from arbitrarily discriminating against those interested in Confederate heritage and those who seek to honor it.

The monument honors Forrest as the defender of Selma and Alabama. Former mayor Joseph T. Smitherman approved the location in January 2000, and the friends raised more than $21,000 to create the monument and prepare the site.
"The original location is certainly appropriate," Austin said. "It was designed for the site and funds were raised for it to be placed in that specific site."

The Smitherman Building is in a predominantly black neighborhood and the monument, complete with a Confederate battleflag, quickly became a lightning rod of controversy after its October dedication. Some called it a symbol of racism and it was the object of at least three attacks by vandals, one of which is currently under investigation by the FBI, an unsuccessful attempt to topple it during a parade to mark Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday.

Less than a week into his term as Selma's first black mayor, James Perkins Jr. decided the new monument would have to go.

That set the stage for a confrontation between the Friends of Forrest and Perkins who told local newspapers that he was committed to move Selma forward.

"It is time now for us to put our Civil War and civil rights history in the museum where it belongs," Perkins was quoted in The Birmingham News shortly after his election. "We can be proud of it. We can cherish it, and we can profit from it. And we're going to do just that."

In mid-April, a spokeswoman for the mayor's office said that Perkins was not available for further comment about the issue and had not granted interviews about the Forrest monument since it was moved by the city in late February.

In October, Perkins told a Los Angeles Times reporter that he had to try to chip away at generations of distrust.
"If I remove the statue, whites will be upset," he told the Times. "If I don't, blacks will be angry."
Selma is 65 percent black, according to the Times report.

In an October press release Perkins said the core of the issue was not only what Forrest represented, but the fact that the monument of a controversial figure is displayed on a public grounds without public and city approval. FOF members maintain that they followed procedures and had approval from the former mayor.

"The erection of the General Nathan Bedford Forrest Monument, as a reminder of our Civil War past, is bound to conjure up images of pain and anger for certain citizens, and images of pride for others," Perkins said in the press release. "This would be the case, however, regardless of where it is placed; therefore the issue here is not whether it should be erected, the issue is whether it should be erected on public property, and if so, under what conditions."

FOF spokesman Austin said its members believe that the actions of Perkins and the 5-4 city council vote to move the monument violated their civil rights and was a discriminatory act.

"It's an attack on not only the integrity of the Friends of Forrest, but on the integrity of the Confederate heritage," Austin said. "Discrimination has no place, anywhere."


Austin said that he realizes that Forrest is a controversial figure to some. However, "Nathan Forrest was the one who defended Alabama and Selma. If it had been Lee, or Jackson, or Cleburne, or someone else, we would have sought to honor him. Forrest is the appropriate general to honor here," he said.

"We have to stand up," he said. "This issue is much larger than our attempt to erect a monument. There is a 14th Amendment issue here."

Austin called the city's attempts to stifle those who seek to honor Forrest as "political correctness run amok."
Forrest friends members are OK with the present location of the Forrest monument in Confederate Circle, but are in agreement it can only be temporary.

"It is a place of honor and the General is with many of the men who fought with him, but it is a burial place and he is not buried there," Austin said. FOF members have considered creating a Confederate park in which the monument would be placed. The ownership of the park, whether public or private, would allow public viewing of the monument. There has been some talk of moving the monument back to the Smitherman courtyard.

Selma is rich in Civil War history and should be doing all it can to promote and market that history, not push it out of sight, said Austin.

"We should promote all of it, the Civil War history, the civil rights history, and not just relegate it to the cemetery," he said. "That's wrong."

Austin said the FOF group had not anticipated a fight with the city and had used up its entire fund to erect the monument. The attorney who has been working to negotiate with the city and to prepare the court case has been working pro bono, but has travel expenses and court costs that the group must reimburse.


The friends started a Forrest monument defense fund. Donations may be sent to the N.B. Forrest Monument Fund, Region's Bank, P.O. Box 470, Selma, AL 36702. The Friends have an extensive web site at www.forrestmonument.org.

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