A group of protesters who want the body of an alleged Ku Klux Klan leader removed from their city have broken the soil over the grave.
The campaigners claim it has taken officials in Memphis, Tennessee, too long to exhume Nathan Bedford Forrest – who was a lieutenant general in the Confederate States Army.
They also want the statue of the soldier on a horse on the burial site to be removed. The rebel cavalryman, who died in 1877, has been buried in the city’s Health Sciences Park since 1904.
A group of protesters started digging up the grave of Confederate general Nathan Beford Forrest in Memphis
The activist shoveled a patch of earth out of the grave, saying they were unhappy with a lack of progress by lawmakers to have the memorial to Bedford Forrest removed
The city’s mayor, AC Wharton, began a push to remove the body and statue in the wake of the church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, but needs approval from several branches of government before he can take action.
Members of the protest group, who call themselves the Commission on Religion and Racism, removed only a small patch of grass from the park, but threatened to return with heavy machinery to tear down the wartime symbol.
Isaac Richmond, the group’s leader, told local station WREG: ‘If he’s gone, some of this racism and race-hate might be gone. We got a fresh shovel full, and we hope that everybody else will follow suit and dig him up.
‘We are going to bring the back hoe, the tractors and the men with the equipment to raise Bedford Forrest from the soil of Memphis.’
The move outraged a spokesman for Forrest’s family, who said the act was vandalism and that the protesters had broken the law.
One man even drove some 270 miles to replace the turf after being dismayed by footage of the digging.
The Memphis city council has already approved a resolution to remove the statue and dig up the body, which was moved to the park from a private cemetery in 1904.
However, a recent state heritage law prevents any more memorials to historical figures from the Civil War from being renamed without approval from a government commission, which could prevent the statue from being moved.
Forrest, a lieutenant general in the Confederate States Army, has memorials in his name across Tennessee, including a bust in the state capitol, a high school and a building at Middle Tennessee State University.
The park in which he is buried was also called Forrest Park until it was renamed in February 2013.
Mayor AC Wharton has led calls to stop honoring Forrest, saying he belongs to a ‘despicable period’.
Last month he told a news conference: ‘These relics, these messages of this despicable period of this great nation, it’s time for those to be moved.’
‘This is a monument to a man who was the avowed founder of the organization that has as its purpose the intimidation, the oppression of black folks’.
Isaac Richmond, center, said the protest group would return with heavy machinery unless the statue was removed by the government
Forrest is thought to have been the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, which was formed after the Confederate surrender in 1865.
In later life he denied all membership of the organization, but has still been heavily associated with it.
There have been moves elsewhere in Tennessee to remove memorials of Forrest.
According to NPR, officials at the state capitol are considering throwing out a bust of the general.
Local officials in Nashville asked the state department of transportation to plant trees to cover up a private memorial to Forrest which is visible from the I-65 freeway, but had their request turned down.