A Department of Veterans Affairs senior official had a portrait of the Ku Klux Klan’s first grand wizard on display in his office—and took it down only after employees signed a petition to have it removed. David J. Thomas Sr., the deputy executive director of the VA’s Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization, took down the painting on Monday shortly after a Post reporter told him that the painting depicted Nathan Bedford Forrest—a Confederate general, slave trader, and the KKK’s first grand wizard. Thomas reportedly said he was unaware of Forrest’s association with the group, and only thought of him as a “southern general.” “It was just a beautiful print that I had purchased, and I thought it was very nice,” Thomas said.
He claimed he put the portrait up a “few months ago,” but a manager who reports to Thomas told the newspaper he had the painting in his office since 2015. The manager also said Thomas had maintenance staff come in to “install an electrical outlet high on the wall so he could illuminate the portrait.” Thomas has reportedly worked at the VA since 2013, and nine of the managers who work under him are black. The newspaper reports “at least three” employees have “pending claims of racial discrimination” against Thomas.