David J. Thomas Sr., a senior official at the Veteran’s Affairs’ Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization, has removed a portrait from his office that featured the first Grand Wizard of the Klu Klux Klan, the Washington Post reports. Nathan Bedford Forrest, the man pictured in the portrait, was also the Confederate commander of the 1864 massacre of mostly black Union soldiers at Fort Pillow that was described at the time as “indiscriminate slaughter.”
From the Post:
Thomas said he took down the painting Monday after a Washington Post reporter explained that its subject, Nathan Bedford Forrest, was a Confederate general and slave trader who became the KKK’s first figurehead in 1868. He professed to be unaware of Forrest’s affiliation with the hate group, which formed after the Civil War to maintain white control over newly freed blacks through violence and intimidation. [...]
“It was just a beautiful print that I had purchased, and I thought it was very nice,” Thomas said. He said he knew of Forrest only “as a southern general in the Civil War” and kept the portrait in his basement before decorating a new and larger office at VA’s administrative headquarters a few months ago.
Thomas, the Post points out, isn’t a Trump appointee. He’s worked in the office since 2013.
The majority of his senior staff are black. Several of those staff members have accused him of discrimination and are filing suits against him. “You don’t hire someone who puts a picture of the Klan in his office unless you’re [a bigot],” John Rigby, a lawyer for one of the employees suing Thomas, told the Post.
A member of Thomas’ staff, Michelle Gardner-Ince, who is one of those making a case against him for discrimination, disputes that he kept the painting in the basement until a few months ago. The manager, who reports to Thomas, told the Post the painting was displayed in Thomas’ previous office as early as 2015. She also noted that he asked VA staff to install an electrical outlet on the wall so he could illuminate the portrait.
Gardner-Ince recalls a conversation about the painting that seemed to suggest Thomas was aware it could be seen as offensive.
“He said, ‘My wife told me I shouldn’t put this picture up,’” pointing to the Forrest portrait,” she told the Post, “‘but I said I don’t care; I like it.’”
“It’s been there for a long time,” she added.
For more details, read the rest of the story over at the Post.