Sculpture of head of Leonidas Polk

Item

Legacies Classification
Memorial Artwork
Memorial Type
Sculptural Memorial
Memorial Context
Memorialized Subject
Title
Sculpture of head of Leonidas Polk
Background and Context
A sculpture of the head and neck of Leonidas Polk (1806-1864), founder of the University of the South, first bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana, enslaver, and Confederate Lieutenant-General in the Civil War. White supremacist Jack Kershaw (1913-2010) created and donated the sculpture to the University of the South in 1952. Kershaw was vice-chairman of the Tennessee Federation for Constitutional Government, a massive resistance group that fought school desegregation. In the 1970s as an attorney, Kershaw defended James Earl Ray, who pleaded guilty in 1969 for killing Martin Luther King, Jr. Additionally, Kershaw served as the attorney for the Ku Klux Klan during its 1970s and 1980s revival in Nashville. In the 1990s, Kershaw co-founded the League of the South, a Neo-Confederate white supremacist organization. In 1998, Kershaw unveiled a 25-foot-high statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate Army general and first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, outside of Nashville, Tennessee. Kershaw later defended the statue by saying, “Somebody needs to say a good word for slavery.”

The sculpture of Polk's head was prominently exhibited on a display shelf in the lobby of the Jessie Ball duPont Library at the University of the South until March 2021, when an anonymous student removed it and took it to the William R. Laurie University Archives and Special Collections. An accompanying letter stated, “I can no longer sit by while these symbols of white supremacy stare over me and my fellow students’ shoulders as we pursue our education.” It is now stored in the archival collections.

In the spring 2022, the student identified himself as senior George Burruss from Lynchburg, Virginia, and published an explanation of his actions in the campus newspaper.
Physical Description
12" x 8.5" bronze sculpture of Polk's head and neck resting on an oak plinth
Memorial Inscription
LEONIDAS POLK
1806 — 1864
1st Missionary Bishop of Arkansas
1836 — 1841
1st Bishop of Louisiana
1841 — 1863
Major-General, C.S.A.
1861 — 1864
Founder of
The University of the South
Chancellor of the University,
1863 — 1864
Creator/Participating Person(s)
Kershaw, Jack
Date created, installed or dedicated
1952
Date Modified
2021
Funded by
Kershaw, Jack
Location: Institution, City, State

Position: 163 (11 views)