New Marker to Recognize Victims of Gen. Forrest's "Business Enterprises"

Mar 20, 2018

A historic marker put up in 1955 doesn't mention what Forrest did for a living. A new one, to be dedicated nearby on April 4, has the heading "Forrest and the Memphis Slave Trade."
Credit Timothy Huebner

On a downtown Memphis street corner, a historic marker placed in 1955 notes the former home of Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest. It also says that he engaged in certain "business enterprises" that made him wealthy. Timothy Huebner says a new marker nearby will add a much-needed clarification to that citation.

Long before the equestrian statue of Forrest was removed last year from its pedestal in Health Sciences Park, Huebner, a history professor at Rhodes College, appealed for a full public disclosure about the general who is venerated throughout the South with streets, schools, parks and even a city and county named after him.

The new marker offers insight into Forrest's antebellum "Slave Mart," which once stood near Forrest's home and next to Calvary Episcopal Church, which existed during the time. 

"We don't have any sketches of it that we've been able to find, but what we do have is some testimony from some people who were sold there," says Huebner, whose students unearthed copious documentation in old newspapers and the Shelby County Archives. 

One new revelation Huebner found was that Forrest not only engaged in the "legal" slave trade at the time, he also trafficked in Africans smuggled to the country long after Congress banned the overseas slave trade in 1808. An article in the Memphis Appeal describes a "genuine native African" as a kind of exotic curiosity.

"Many who try to defend Forrest's involvement in the slave trade say, 'Well, yes, he was involved, but it was legal,'" Huebner says. "We found that we was involved in the illegal slave trade, also."

The new marker will be dedicated April 4 at Calvary Episcopal Church. During the ceremony, the names of some of Forrest's captives -- many known only because they were recorded on bills of sale in the Shelby County Archives -- will be read aloud. 

Huebner adds that the marker was not approved or sanctioned by the Tennessee Historical Commission, which has worked in the past to minimize or obscure historical racial atrocities and is generally opposed to relocating Confederate monuments. 

The Tennessee General Assembly is still considering reprisals against the City of Memphis for sidestepping state law by selling two city parks to a nonprofit group, which then removed the statues without needing the historical commission's permission.