The council voted 4-0 with two members abstaining to stop all work on the monument to Forrest until the courts decide whether the city or a Confederate heritage group owns the section of a city cemetery where the monument would be located.
A monument honoring Forrest was the cause of demonstrations by civil rights groups about 10 years ago when it was located outside a city building near downtown. It was then moved to a section honoring Confederate war dead in the city cemetery.
But Forrest's bust was removed and apparently stolen from atop a 7-foot-tall granite monument earlier this year, prompting new protests and calls by civil rights advocates not to replace it.
The vote came after protesters marched to City Hall and gave a series of impassioned speeches at a city council work session.
Detractors say Forrest traded black people like cattle, massacred black Union soldiers and joined the early Ku Klux Klan. His defenders dispute much of that and counter with stories that depict him as a protector of slave families and defender of the weak who resigned from the KKK.
A member of the group Friends of Forrest, Pat Godwin, said she feels the protests have been an effort to obscure the police investigation of the disappearance of the bust.
"It's all smoke and mirrors to divert attention from the issue of the theft of the bust," Godwin said.
The council had earlier indicated it would allow people to speak on the issue at the work session, but would not vote on the racially sensitive issue during the meeting. Council members changed their mind after activist Rose Toure, a leader of the protests, and other speakers urged the council to go ahead and vote. Council member Bennie Ruth Crenshaw moved that the council order all work on the monument stopped after city attorney Jimmy Nunn said he had not been able to locate a deed to the Confederate section of the cemetery.
"Let's stop the building and move this Nathan Bedford Forrest issue out of the way," Crenshaw said.
Another council member, Susan Keith, abstained from the vote. She said earlier she needed more information before she could decide how to vote. She said she would also like to wait until the investigation of the theft is completed.
"There's just too many discrepancies," she said.
The marchers, chanting "no justice, no peace," earlier started at the Edmund Pettus Bridge, where voting rights protestors were beaten by law enforcement officers during a 1965 march.
Several people told council members at the work session that the city could finally move past those images from the 1960s by not allowing the monument to be rebuilt.
Selma resident Rosa Monroe said Forrest was not the kind of man the city needs to be honoring.
"How are we going to teach our kids anything if we give praise to this man?" Monroe said.
Several members of Friends of Forrest watched the march, but declined to comment. No supporters of the monument spoke at the council work session.
The supporters did hand out a press release that described Forrest as a brave military leader who led efforts to defend Selma from siege by Union forces late in the war.