Senior VA official criticized for displaying portrait of KKK’s first grand wizard

Senior VA official criticized for displaying portrait of KKK’s first grand wizard
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A senior official with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is facing allegations of racism for hanging a portrait of the Ku Klux Klan’s first grand wizard in his office, The Washington Post reported on Tuesday.

David J. Thomas Sr. told the Post that he was not aware that the man in the portrait, Nathan Bedford Forrest, was the white supremacist organization's first figurehead. He said he removed the portrait after a Post reporter explained Forrest's significance.

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Thomas, who is deputy executive director of the department's Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization, a unit that certifies veteran-owned businesses for government contracts, told the newspaper that he knew Forrest only as "a southern general in the Civil War."

Several of Thomas's colleagues have accused him of racism. Three of them have pending racial discrimination charges against him, the Post reported.

John Rigby, the lawyer representing two of those employees, told the Post that they believe the portrait shows Thomas is hostile towards African Americans.

 “You don’t hire someone who puts a picture of the Klan in his office unless you’re [racist]," Rigby told the newspaper.

VA spokesman Curt Cashour in an email to the Post wrote that the VA "strives to create a workplace that is comfortable and welcoming to all employees."

"[Thomas] received no complaints from his fellow employees and only learned about these concerns from The Washington Post ... Thomas immediately took down the print in question," Cashour said. "The matter is resolved."

A petition demanding the portrait's removal had 75 signatures as of Monday, according to the Post. The petition was started by the local VA chapter of the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents employees the agency.

“We employees denounce the display of this offensive picture and believe appropriate action should be taken,” the petition says.