Tennessee votes to remove Confederate bust from Capitol

A decadeslong effort to remove a bust of a Confederate general and early Ku Klux Klan leader from the Tennessee Capitol cleared its final hurdle Thursday, with state leaders approving the final vote needed to allow the statue to be relocated to a museum. The seven-member State Building Commission voted 5-2 to remove the Nathan Bedford Forrest bust as well as the busts of two other Tennessee military leaders.

The Forrest bust was first installed at the Capitol in 1978 and has sparked protests and demonstrations ever since. Some have called for adding more historical context to the bust, but others, including Gov. Bill Lee recently, fought to have it moved to the state’s history museum.

Crews are here at the State Capitol. They’re beginning the process of getting the bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest ready to be relocated to the TN State Museum. @NC5 pic.twitter.com/XTNUtnbKeW— Aaron Cantrell (@AaronTheNewsGuy) July 23, 2021

Tennessee’s Black legislative caucus has been particularly vocal about how painful it has been to walk by the bust, displayed prominently between the House and Senate chamber, as they carry out their work each day.

“Much like this bust symbolizes the pain and suffering of slavery and terror, removing the likeness of Nathan Bedford Forrest from a place of honor in Tennessee’s Capitol is a symbol for much needed reconciliation,” said Sen. Raumesh Akbari, a Black lawmaker from Memphis and the Senate’s Democratic caucus chairwoman.

Confederate Bust-Tennessee
In this Tuesday, June 9, 2020 file photo, a bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest is displayed in the Tennessee State Capitol in Nashville, Tenn.  Mark Humphrey / AP

“No doubt we have work to do to achieve equality and justice for all people, but today’s vote shows that progress is possible,” she said.

Forrest was a Confederate cavalry general who amassed a fortune before the Civil War as a plantation owner and slave trader in Memphis. After the war, he was a leader of the Klan, which terrorized Black people as it sought to reverse Reconstruction efforts and restore white supremacy.

Earlier this year, Tennessee’s Historical Commission voted 25-1 to move the three busts just north of the Capitol building to the state’s museum, noting it was better equipped to furnish the appropriate historical context.

However, the Statehouse’s top Republican leaders argued that the bust could not be removed without approval from the State Building Commission. House Speaker Cameron Sexton and Senate Speaker Randy McNally both expressed disappointment with Thursday’s outcome.

“No one is arguing that Forrest is not a problematic figure. He is. But there is more to his story. His life eventually followed a redemptive arc which I hope is outlined in great detail in our state museum,” McNally said in a statement, adding that the vote signaled that some advocates will likely find another monument to “demand that we again kneel at the altar of political correctness.”

The GOP-controlled General Assembly has refused for years to advance legislation calling for the bust’s removal.

However, momentum shifted when Lee changed positions and called for moving the bust out of the Capitol in 2020 amid national outcry over the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minnesota. Floyd’s death sparked a new push to remove Confederate symbols, including the Forrest bust.

Lee’s position was markedly different than when he first came into elected office in 2018, arguing that “the Ku Klux Klan is a part of our history that we’re not proud of in Tennessee, and we need to be reminded of that and make certain that we don’t forget it. So I wouldn’t advocate to remove” the bust.

A statue of Forrest in Tennessee has been vandalized numerous times over the years. In 2017, it was painted pink.

4 thoughts on “Tennessee votes to remove Confederate bust from Capitol

  1. What total bullshit, I am offended by statues of M.King and streets named after blacks and now the new trend, murals of criminals who died from a drug over dose while being arrested

  2. Yeah that war ended how many years ago and no one, including the blacks, passed it everyday prior to George Floyd and couldn’t care less and didn’t give it a second thought. Now taxpayers are paying to remove things so adult adolescents won’t cry! Grow some and get over it. You didn’t care prior to that so it shouldn’t be a big issue now. Just more crap to whine about!
    It is the history of this country and it DOES NOT go away no matter how you like to cover your little eyes and say It’s not there! It’s not there!

    Getting tired of hearing the BS. My ancestors were here long before any of you being Sioux and I still haven’t gone off the deep end. It won’t bring my ancestors back. The difference is I grew up and handle reality unlike the delicate snowflakes the need to be cottled.

  3. Prior statement about the blacks (negros) passing the statues of Nathan all those years did not bother them, until now that the socialist (commie SOBs) are interjecting the basis of our history and honor of ALL the men and women that fought on both sides to censorship/ destruction/ and beginning steps on destroying our democracy and country for statues of slap paint on roads and walls for black druggies, killers, and scum, we are suppose to accept this bull and let the freedom haters change our way of life !!!!!!!! NOT FOR LONG MY FRIENDS –AMERICANS ARE SICK OF THIS SHIT AND A WAVE IS COMING.

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