A senior official at the Department of Veterans Affairs has removed from his office a portrait of Nathan Bedford Forrest — a Confederate general who went on to become the first grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan — after being asked about it by a reporter from The Washington Post.

  • “It was just a beautiful print that I had purchased, and I thought it was very nice,” David J. Thomas Sr., deputy executive director of VA’s Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization, told The Post.
  • The portrait, originally painted by artist Don Stivers, is titled “No Surrender” and depicts Forrest during the Civil War in frigid cold just before dawn in Feb. 1862. Forrest “called together his officers, explained the perilous situation and gave them their choice: Remain to surrender with the rest of the garrison at Ft. Donelson or risk death cutting their way out. For him there was no choice but to fight,” according to the artist’s description.
  • Thomas claimed to have no knowledge of Forrest’s later infamy with the KKK, telling the Post he only knew him as “a southern general in the Civil War.”
  • It’s worth noting that the top result after a Google search of Forrest’s name brings up many links detailing his relation to the Klan, including his Wikipedia page, which says, “after the war ended, he became an early member of the Ku Klux Klan” in the opening paragraph. He later became the group’s first grand wizard.
  • Besides his stature in the Klan, Forrest is also notorious for his actions in the attack on the Union’s Fort Pillow, where his men slaughtered surrendering Union troops, many of them African-American.
  • “Words cannot describe the scene,” a Confederate sergeant wrote later of the battle. “The poor deluded negroes would run up to our men fall upon their knees and with uplifted hands scream for mercy but they were ordered to their feet and then shot down. The whitte [sic] men fared but little better. Their fort turned out to be a great slaughter pen.”
  • Nine of Thomas’ 14 managers are black. At least three have pending racial discrimination claims against him, according to The Post.
  • A former U.S. Army officer, Thomas has worked at the VA since 2013, according to his LinkedIn profile.
  • “If an employee finds a work of art on display in a private office offensive, the employee should bring it to the attention of his or her supervisor, who will take steps to handle the issue quickly and appropriately as needed,” Curt Cashour, a spokesman for the VA, told Task & Purpose.
  • He added: “That didn’t happen here – Mr. Thomas received no complaints from his fellow employees and only learned about these concerns from the Washington Post. Mr. Thomas immediately took down the print in question – a work by noted historical artist Don Stivers – and the matter is resolved.”