VA official proudly displays KKK Grand Wizard portrait in his D.C. office, 'I thought it was very nice'

An official with the U.S. Veterans Administration proudly displayed a lit formal portrait of Nathan Bedford Forrest, the Ku Klux Klan's first Grand Wizard, despite protestations from people who worked for him. 'I thought it was very nice,' he said of the official showcased art, which he is sad to have been forced to take down.

David J. Thomas Sr. is the deputy executive director of the VA's Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization.

Thomas says he removed this painting from his office after discovering the guy on the big horse, Nathan Bedford Forrest, was a slave trading Confederate general who became the first leader of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.

Image via Washington Post, courtesy of John Rigby

The painting is titled 'No Surrender,' by artist Don Stivers, and a signature shows it was painted in 1999.

"Thomas's staff includes 14 managers, nine of whom are black," reports Lisa Rein at the Washington Post.

She reports that it was only removed after "offended employees began signing a petition to present to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie.

David J. Thomas Sr. is deputy executive director of VA's Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization, which certifies veteran-owned businesses seeking government contracts. His senior staff is mostly African American.

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 said he was 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.

A basic Google search of Forrest's name returns various biographies detailing his role in the Confederacy and the white-supremacist strains of its aftermath.

"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.