New historical marker updates Nathan Bedford Forrest’s role in slave trade

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A new historical marker that acknowledges Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest's role in the slave trade in Memphis was dedicated Wednesday in a ceremony downtown.

The original marker, erected on Adams Avenue in 1955, noted that Forrest's home stood nearby and that he operated a "business enterprise" near the site. But it didn't mention that the business was a slave market.

Calvary Episcopal Church held a reconciliation service before the unveiling, where speakers read names of slaves who were sold at the market. Rev. Scott Walters of Calvary Episcopal led congregants in asking for forgiveness.

“There are churches and religious leaders all who failed to stand with the oppressed,” participants said.

Here is a portion of updated marker:

"From 1854 to 1860, Nathan Bedford Forrest operated a profitable slave trading business at this site. In 1826, Tennessee had prohibited bringing enslaved people into the state for the purpose of selling them. As cotton and slavery grew in importance, the legislature repealed the ban in 1855. Starting that year, Memphis emerged as a regional hub for the slave trade. In addition to the more than 3,000 enslaved people who lived and worked in Memphis at the time, thousands more flowed into and out of the city, as traders and their agents brought a steady supply of human cargo into town via roads, river, and rail. In 1864, Forrest purchased this property on Adams, between Second and Third, just east of an alley behind Calvary Episcopal Church. Most slaves were sold at lots like this one before ending up on plantations in the Mississippi Delta or further south. Horatio Eden, sold from Forrest's yard as a child, remembered the place as a 'square stockade of high boards with two room Negro houses around. ... We were all kept in these rooms, but when an auction was held or buyers came, we were brought out and paraded two or three around a circular brick wall in the center of the stockade. The buyers would stand nearby and inspect us as we went by, stop us, and examine us.' ... "

Rhodes College students researched the history of the site, uncovered the names of slaves sold there and wrote the script for the new marker.

"It's so important now that we have this marker here, people will realize what actually happened at this place," said student Sarah Eiland.

“To see history outside of the text books and out in the community where it can do some good for the community, that’s a fantastic thing,” Matthew Broussard said.

The new plaque unveiling took place about four months after a statue of Forrest was taken down from Health Sciences Park in Memphis.

"People didn’t want to see that, but now, they're forced to see the true acts of what he did and why people didn’t want that marker there," Eiland said.

Superintendent Tim Good with the National Park Service traveled from Springfield, Illinois to speak at the unveiling Wednesday.

"I believe this marker fits [Martin Luther King's] legacy in teaching American people about their history, especially tough history. These are stories people don’t want to learn about but putting the marker here gives them a safe space to engage that and they can understand America far better," Good said.

Alexis Singleton took the day off work at a public elementary school in Whitehaven to attend the event. She applauded the efforts of Calvary Episcopal Church and Rhodes to uncover and display the truth of Forrest's background.

“I think it's very powerful and empowering as a person of color to see something like this here,” she said. "I firmly believe in the future generations, especially here in Memphis, our students should know the background of the city they live in."