Nathan Bedford Forrest State Park
Tennessee River Folklife Museum
Nathan Bedford Forrest
Backstory and Context
Built by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) during the Great Depression, what is today known as the Nathan Bedford Forrest State Park began as a small local park in the 1930s. The WPA was a New Deal-era program created by President Franklin Roosevelt via an executive order in 1935. The program aimed to improve the nation’s infrastructure and offer employment to skilled and unskilled laborers across the country. The program was later renamed the Work Projects Administration in 1939 and built schools, hospitals, storm drains, bridges, roads, and many other projects. At one point the WPA is estimated to have employed over 3.3 million Americans. As unemployment numbers improved during World War II, there was no longer need for the WPA and the program was shut down in 1943.
The state park today gets its name from the notorious and controversial Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest. During the Civil War, Forrest led troops at the Battle of Fort Pillow in 1864, also known as the massacre of Fort Pillow as Forrest’s troops killed nearly 300 African American Union soldiers after they had surrendered. At the Battle of Johnsonville later that same year, Forrest led his cavalry in an attack on the town and nearby Union river supply lines. The site of that battle is only a short way down the Cyprus Creek from the park. In addition, being a Confederate general, after the war Forrest went on to become the first grand wizart of the Ku Klux Klan during Reconstruction.
In recent years, monuments to Forrest have begun to be renamed or replaced completely. A bust of Forrest which is located in the Tennessee State Capitol has been debated and representatives suggested relocated the bust to a state museum. Tennessee Representative Jeremy Faison has proposed replacing the bust with a statue of country music star and Tennessee-native Dolly Parton arguing that the capitol building is no place to honor Confederate generals and KKK leaders. A Memphis park has undergone significant changes in recent years as the park’s name changed to be Health Sciences Park in 2013 instead of being named for the general and a statue of Forrest was removed four years later. Forrest and his wife Mary Ann Bedford Forrest were also previously buried on the site, but their remains were relocated in May 2020 and became the property of the Sons of Confederate Veterans group. Despite the controversy surrounding Forrest, there has not yet been any move to rename the state park.
A highlight of the park is the Tennessee River Folklife Museum which depicts the area's cultural and economic history during the 19th and 20th centuries. Visitors can learn about the commercial fishing and logging industries, as well as about local crafts making, musseling, and river life. The museum also explores the Civil War, with a focus on the details of General Nathan Bedford Forest's cavalry November 4, 1864 attack on Johnsonville. The park also offers visitors campgrounds, cabins, trails, boating, and fishing opportunities.
Alonso, Melissa and Amanda Jackson. Remains of Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest and his wife will be removed from a Memphis park, CNN. May 13th 2020. Accessed May 24th 2020. https://www.cnn.com/2020/05/13/us/nathan-bedford-forrest-body-to-be-moved-trnd/index.html.
Glaze, Robert L.. Nathan Bedford Forrest, Encyclopedia Britannica. December 26th 2019. Accessed May 24th 2020. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Nathan-Bedford-Forrest.
History.com Editors. Works Progress Administration, History. June 10th 2019. Accessed May 24th 2020. https://www.history.com/topics/great-depression/works-progress-administration.
Katz, Brigit. Goodbye, Nathan Bedford Forrest. Hello, Dolly?, Smithsonian Magazine. December 23rd 2019. Accessed May 24th 2020. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/goodbye-nathan-bedford-forrest-hello-dolly-180973844/.
Nathan Bedford Forrest State Park, Tennessee State Parks. Accessed May 24th 2020. https://tnstateparks.com/parks/info/nathan-bedford-forrest.
Nathan Bedford Forrest State Park Brochure, Tennessee State Parks. Accessed May 24th 2020. https://tnstateparks.com/assets/pdf/additional-content/park-brochures/nathan-bedford-forrest_brochure-2016.pdf.