A senior official at the Department of Veteran’s Affairs hung a painting of the first Grand Wizard of the KKK on the wall of his office, it has been revealed.
David Thomas, deputy head of the Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization, said he bought the ‘very nice’ print of Nathan Bedford Forrest knowing he was a Southern General in the Civil War, but nothing else about him.
Thomas has now removed the artwork after his staff began signing a petition demanding it be taken down.
Thomas told the Washington Post that the painting used to be displayed in his basement, but was moved when he redecorated his office a few months ago.
Issues were raised over the artwork last week when a steward recognized the subject and reported it to the local chapter of the American Federation of Government Employees, which started the petition.
Despite the paperwork attracting 75 signatures, Thomas says nobody complained about the portrait in person, and he would have removed it sooner if they had.
Separately, he is facing three complaints of racial discrimination from his staff. His senior staff includes 14 managers, nine of whom are black.
The painting shows Forrest in a grey military uniform astride a white horse fleeing a snowy battlefield in Tennessee in 1862. It is captioned ‘No Surrender’.
Forrest was a prominent slave trader and cotton farmer before serving as a Lieutenant General in the Confederate Army.
While he was initially known for his prowess in battle, he became notorious for the massacre of mostly-black troops following the Battle of Fort Pillow in 1864.
After the war he became involved in efforts to suppress the freedoms of newly-liberated blacks through violence and intimidation.
It is thought he joined the KKK in 1867, two years after it was founded, and was elected as the group’s first Grand Wizard.
He later split with the group, calling it unorganized, and toward the end of his life he denounced the Klan and insisted he had never been a member.
He also gave at least one speech in favor of racial integration.