Photo: Nathan Bedford Forrest bust at Tennessee Capitol in Nashville
Photo Credit: Public Domain
Published March 10, 2021
[The Tennessee Conservative Staff]
Nashville, TN – The Tennessee Historical Commission voted on Tuesday to allow the bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest to be moved from the Tennessee State Capitol.
After a nearly six-hour virtual meeting filled with testimony from varying sides, commission members made the decision to have the Forrest bust moved to the Tennessee State Museum with a vote of 25-1.
The single vote of no came from Joanne Cullom Moore, a Commission member from Shelby County who represents West Tennessee. Moore said she never received the email of provisions being discussed from the Historical Commission.
Along with the Forrest bust, the removal will also include busts of U.S. Admiral David Farragut and U.S. Navy Admiral Albert Gleaves. All three of the busts can currently be found on the second floor of the State Capitol building.
The process was begun in July when the Capitol Commission voted to initiate the move. Winter storms postponed the original meeting scheduled for February.
Many find the bust to be controversial because of Forrest’s history as a Confederate General, plantation and slave owner, and founding member of the KKK. The bust has been on display in the Capitol for just over 40 years.
The original petition by the State Capitol Commission states that Commission members “acknowledged the tension created between history, in recognition of Forrest’s impact on and contributions to military history, and the negative symbolism the presence of the Forrest bust represents to many today.”
Governor Bill Lee has also previously spoken out in favor of the move.
In a July press release, Gov. Lee said that “the most appropriate way to give full context to this complicated life is to put the bust in the state museum where the very purpose is to see and understand our history in full.”
Not all legislators are in favor of the move. There is a dispute over whether statute gives the decision over to the Capitol Commission or the Legislature. Lt. Gov. Randy McNally and Speaker Cameron Sexton have asked for an opinion from the attorney general in regards to the issue.
A spokesperson for Lt. Gov. McNally said that the Republican Senate Speaker “has always been clear his personal preference is that the bust remain and context be added. Regardless of his personal preference, he has always been adamant the law be followed. That does not appear to have happened here.”
The move may not be immediate, however. Tennessee’s Heritage Protection Act gives the Commission 30 days to post the final ruling online. Anyone opposing that decision will have two months to appeal it in court.
After Tuesday’s vote, Gov. Lee tweeted, “We respect the thoughtful process addressing the location of the Forrest, Farragut and Gleaves busts. Today the Historical Commission approved that the State Museum should be the new home, and I believe this process should begin as soon as possible.”
Hedy Weinberg, Executive Director for the ACLU of Tennessee, praised the decision, “Removing the bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest from the Capitol would move us a step closer toward ensuring that the history we choose to celebrate and honor in our public spaces reflects respect and dignity for al Tennesseans.”
Once the statues are moved, a decision must be made on which historical figures will replace them in the State Capitol. One lawmaker suggested that consideration be given to women who were influential in Tennessee’s history.