The Memory Palace

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Episode 73:
Notes on an Imagined Plaque to be Added to the Statue of General Nathan Bedford Forrest, Upon Hearing that the Memphis City Counci has Voted to Move it and the Exhumed Remains of General Forrest and his Wife, Mary Ann Montgomery Forrest, from their Current Location in a Park Downtown, to the Nearby Elmwood Cemetery

Aug 13, 2015

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Music, Footnotes & Ephemera

Episode 8 of the 2015 Summer Season

* Under the credits is Harlaamstrat 74 off of John Dankworth’s Modesty Blaise score.
* First up (and returning at the end) is Sandra’s Theme, from Heather McIntosh’s fantastic score to Compliance, a very good, very disturbing movie.
* We hit Frank Glazer leading Charles Ives’ Largo for Clarinet, Violin and Piano a couple of times, framing…
* Runaway from Olafur Arnalds.

*The key to researching this episode turned out to be an article in The Journal of Southern History from 2001 by Court Carnay called, “The Contested Image of Nathan Bedford Forrest.”.
* Also particularly useful was Nathan Bedford Forrest: a Biography, by Jack Hurst.
* As was Lynching in America: A History in Documents, compiled by Christopher Waldrep.
* Much of my information about the contents of the ceremony and speeches was gathered from this, the digitized journal and scrapbook of Charles Henry Niehaus, the sculptor of the monument. It’s an extraordinary resource.
* And let us all read Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All its Phases, by Ida B. Wells. And let’s put her on the $10 while we’re at it.

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40 Comments on Notes on an Imagined Plaque to be Added to the Statue of General Nathan Bedford Forrest, Upon Hearing that the Memphis City Counci has Voted to Move it and the Exhumed Remains of General Forrest and his Wife, Mary Ann Montgomery Forrest, from their Current Location in a Park Downtown, to the Nearby Elmwood Cemetery

  1. Kenn Neher says:

    I listened to your most recent podcast on Forrest today. I appreciate your making clear that the basic tenant of the Confederacy was that people should be able to be kept as slaves. To paraphrase a living “politician”, no matter how much lipstick you put on that pig, it is still a pig.

  2. Laura says:

    I was brought up in the south and listened to confederate apologia for most of my youth. I couldn’t agree with you more. I’m so glad that some people are finally relegating these relics of glorified treason and slavery to the past, where they belong.

  3. Steve says:


  4. Arian Rana says:

    Thank you. I’d love to say more, but you’ve said it perfectly, so… thank you.

  5. Jake says:

    Powerful episode Nate! Thank you for doing what you do.

  6. Bejay says:

    Forrest fought to preserve the slave power, looked on while surrendering black soldiers were murdered at Fort Pillow. When he surrendered declared that, “any man who [like Jefferson Davis] is in favor of a further prosecution of this war is a fit subject for a lunatic asylum.” After the war, in he came to lead the KKK in order to “restore order.” He grew disgusted at the Klan’s actions however. In 1869 he ordered it disbanded and all it robes etc. destroyed. He made speeches telling blacks that he welcomed them as his fellow citizens. He publicly worked to eliminate the last vestiges of the Klan he once lead. In 1874,’after the murder of four blacks by a lynch mob after they were arrested for defending themselves at a BBQ, Forrest wrote to Tennessee Governor Brown, offering “to exterminate the white marauders who disgrace their race by this cowardly murder of Negroes.”‘ He urged the admission of blacks into colleges and law schools. It was not on his death bed that he repented. Forrest was no saint, he fought for wicked cause, but we wasn’t all bad either. —- The suggested plaque would not out of place, and the narrator correctly draws our attention no to Forrest himself, but to the people who put up the monument.

  7. Bejay says:

    Here’s a speech Forrest delivered to an African American society in 1875, where he was presented with a bouquet on mounting the platform: “Ladies and Gentlemen I accept the flowers as a memento of reconciliation between the white and colored races of the southern states. I accept it more particularly as it comes from a colored lady, for if there is any one on God’s earth who loves the ladies I believe it is myself. ( Immense applause and laughter.) I came here with the jeers of some white people, who think that I am doing wrong. I believe I can exert some influence, and do much to assist the people in strengthening fraternal relations, and shall do all in my power to elevate every man to depress none. (Applause.) I want to elevate you to take positions in law offices, in stores, on farms, and wherever you are capable of going. I have not said anything about politics today. I don’t propose to say anything about politics. You have a right to elect whom you please; vote for the man you think best, and I think, when that is done, you and I are freemen. Do as you consider right and honest in electing men for office. I did not come here to make you a long speech, although invited to do so by you. I am not much of a speaker, and my business prevented me from preparing myself. I came to meet you as friends, and welcome you to the white people. I want you to come nearer to us. When I can serve you I will do so. We have but one flag, one country; let us stand together. We may differ in color, but not in sentiment Many things have been said about me which are wrong, and which white and black persons here, who stood by me through the war, can contradict. Go to work, be industrious, live honestly and act truly, and when you are oppressed I’ll come to your relief. I thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for this opportunity you have afforded me to be with you, and to assure you that I am with you in heart and in hand. (Prolonged applause.)”…/forrest_speech.html

  8. Cynthia says:

    Just wonderful.

  9. Bobbi says:

    I’ve been a listener for a very long time, but I had to pull over and comment on the most recent episode. First let me say, thank you. Thank you for not choosing to be PC and choosing honesty. What an excellent commentary on exactly what the discussion about the Confederacy is actually about.

  10. Ken Pimple says:

    This might be the high point of the memory palace so far, and that’s saying something. I hope hundreds of thousands of people hear this, perhaps in history class.

  11. Giese says:

    This was your finest work yet. The first episode to literally send chills through my body upon the end. Seriously, great work. Thanks, Nate.

  12. Mike says:

    Powerful, well told, essential to tell. Thank you. This is the Memory Palace and podcasting at its very best.

  13. Lisa says:

    1st, I LOVE the podcast every episode.

    Bejay, while I appreciate how Forrest turned his life around, being the first grand wizard started an evil tradition costing thousands of lives ever since. Tho is similar to the slaveship captain that saw the errors of his way and wrote “Amazing Grace”. He will always be known as both a slaveship captain and a repentant priest.

  14. Paul K says:

    Really nice. Drives home the hypocrisy of “southern heritage and culture” since those are completely synonymous with racism and slavery.

  15. Tom Karches says:

    Words escape me. This was amazing and heartbreaking all at the same time.

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  17. Jenna says:

    This is my new favorite treat. This podcast is comprised of lyrical, poetic, short story’s. Each one beautifully magical. And this particular episode gave me more goosebumps than most of his episodes. Every time I listen to one I stop whatever I am doing and savor every word. They’re all so amazing that for a few brief moments I go wherever his story is, and live there, for just a moment.

  18. Shawn says:

    this was, without a doubt, your best episode ever and quiete possibly the best podcast I ever heard.

    Great story and research and storytelling. It’s been said already, put you avoided being PC and just laid it out there the way it is—and the way it should be.

    You followed it up with another great episode on the the Apollo XI launch…and put it out exactly as it probably was. Dare I say Nate, you probably have found your voice in the best way possible.

    Expect my donation soo.

  19. Cindy Flores says:

    As a southerner, living in Richmond, VA, home Monument Avenue, the Confederate Museum and Jefferson Davis Highway, this changes the way I view all of our confederate monuments. This podcast gave me goosebumps. Thank you, this was profound. Also, thank you for the dedication to the lost lives in the church shooting, may they rest in peace.

  20. Andrew Ryder says:

    Wow. Powerful, thoughtful, emotional storytelling at its best. Have listened twice already and can’t listen to anything else until I’ve heard it a few more times. BEST. EPISODE. EVER.

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  22. MB says:

    Wow! I am ever amazed by the lack of knowledge and self righteous finger pointing. Why was Forrest in the KKK? What was the original purpose of the KKK? If you want to know, research what the Union League did in the south during so called “Reconstruction.” You were never taught this as was I in the revisionist dumbed down propaganda that was passed to us as history in school. Why don’t you read some accounts such as Nelson Winbush’s grandfather, a black man who rode with Forrest and get his take on things? Did you know that Confederate Veterans, considered as U.S. veterans by the House of Representatives, were not allowed to have firearms at the end of the war, leaving them and their families vulnerable to gangs that were manipulated by the Union League? What would you do if your neighborhoods were infested by gangs? Forrest had his faults, and at least he admitted them. Why don’t you pick on General Grant who had slaves himself. When asked why he had them, he said, “Good help is hard to find.” Read some period documents and the Official Documents of the War of the Rebellion from the U.S. Congress. And what do the lost lives in the church shooting, which grieves me also, have to do with the Confederacy?

  23. Peter McDowell says:

    I appreciate this episode and the title, as well.

    P.S. The “L” is missing from City Council.

  24. Dave Fankhanel says:

    Thank you for your work. Its beautiful. And though I prefer listening to your pieces they are published as audio on your site, I was wondering if you have text versions of your pieces. If would be useful to me in a few ways. Thanks.

  25. admin says:

    Hi. Thanks so much for writing in. At this time, there are no plans to release text versions or transcripts.

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  27. Anshu Sharma says:

    This is beautifully melancholy of the confederate. This is both a testament, and condemnation of a country that will never be.

  28. Tom Bremer says:

    This is a wonderfully eloquent and forceful commentary on the Forrest monument, perhaps the best that I have heard. As a historian living and working in Memphis, I have had several opportunities to engage with students and colleagues in difficult and provocative discussions of Forrest and his legacy at the site of the monument, wrestling with the painful past literally on the base of the arrogantly regal statue. This commentary gets to the heart of so many of the issues that never seem to go away, and connects them in ways both poetic and powerful. The Memory Palace has ascended to the heights of the historical sublime. Thank you for the wonderful work that you do.

  29. Nancy says:

    Thank you for this thoughtful, passionate, well-researched piece. Professor James Loewen points out in “Lies Across America” and his lectures “Rethinking our Past”, our historical markers and sites say more about when they went up then about the history they are supposed to represent. He also writes and edits and surveys textbooks and uses original sources. The person…discussing… reconstruction anecdotally might find his work enlightening, if read with an open mind.

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  31. JE Sides says:

    Oh my. Superb. Absolutely superb.

  32. MWJ says:

    I love you. I LOVE you. I LOVE YOU. Thank you.

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  34. C Fortson says:

    I had really enjoyed your podcast up to this episode where you chose to generalize and paint everyone from the South as racist slave owners, not true or accurate, but the usual strategy of liberal/progressives. Making claims that anyone who fought for the South by default agreed with slavery is slanted and straight out of the Oprah Winfrey school of edited history. Slavery wasn’t even an issue at the beginning of the war, it started over states rights. Now having said that I’d like to say, I do NOT believe in slavery and no one in my family has ever owned a slave, but we did fight and die for the south. If such a time arises as it did in 1776 and we find ourselves in need of new guards we won’t hesitate to through off the oppressive one. I believe, even to this day that every state has the right to secede from this union if it finds itself being oppressed and bullied by corruption. Government over reach happens even unto this day, taking private property for example.

  35. Rory says:


    Such blatant and false revisionism. I won’t waste my time with your entire drivel, but will at least take one.

    “Why don’t you pick on General Grant who had slaves himself.”

    General US Grant inherited one slave, which he promptly granted his freedom to (even though Grant was living in poverty and desperately needed the money he could have got for him, or got by making the man buy his freedom). The rest of your post is about as factual as this claim, or the quote you invented.

  36. rob hamdy says:

    deez nuts

  37. Elizabeth Rosenberg says:

    Gave me head-to-toe goosebumps at the end. Inspirational and incredibly important message. Thanks, Nate!

  38. Tom Bremer says:

    One correction to this otherwise outstanding commentary: the statue that stands in Memphis’s renamed Health Sciences Park actually faces south, not north as this story repeatedly insists.

  39. h says:

    He didn’t order the massacre. Do some fact checking.