Poll: Should the Nathan Bedford Forrest be moved from the Tennessee State Capitol?

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NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) - The Tennessee Historical Commission voted to move the controversial Nathan Bedford Forrest bust from the Tennessee State Capitol.

The commission members voted 25-1 on Tuesday afternoon to allow the bust to be moved to the Tennessee State Museum.

The busts of U.S. Admiral David Farragut, who was in the Union Navy, and U.S. Navy Admiral Albert Gleaves, will also be moved to the state museum, per the Capitol Commission’s recommendation.

The decision was made after the commission heard several hours of testimony during the 6-hour meeting.

The Capitol Commission voted in July in favor of beginning this process of removal, but it's up to the Historical Commission to put it to a vote. 

The meeting was originally set for February but was postponed because of the winter storms.

The House Democratic Caucus praised the decision to relocate the bust of Forrest and two others to the Tennessee State Museum.

“This decision has been a long time coming. For far too long, both lawmakers and visitors to the Capitol have had to endure walking past a bust honoring a disgraced Confederate soldier and a former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan,” said House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rep. Vincent Dixie, D-Nashville, in a news release. “That statue represents one of the most shameful parts of both American and Tennessee history and it was personally embarrassing to have to see it every time I walk into the House chamber.”

“I’m very pleased that the Historical Commission granted the waiver request from the Capitol Commission to remove the Nathan Bedford Forrest bust from the State Capitol. Today’s final administrative action by the appropriate governmental body affirms the work of so many people over the many decades,” said Rep. Harold Love, D-Nashville, in a news release.

Senate Democrats also applauded the decision to move Forrest’s bust.

“Let this be one of the last hurdles and an important step in a long line of actions we take in Tennessee to heal the divisions that have long separated Black and white people in this state and country for far too long,” said Sen. Brenda Gilmore, D-Nashville, in a news release. “Our state and our nation have an immense amount of work to do to achieve true racial equality and justice. And while public monuments only play a small role in this work, removing the Forrest bust from the Capitol will correct one mistake made in 1978.”

Then Gov. Bill Haslam said in 2015 that if he was choosing someone to honor in the State Capitol, "I don't think I'd pick Nathan Bedford Forrest."

Haslam said he thought the bust of Forrest was placed in the Capitol to join the bust of Farragut. Together, Haslam said the two showed the divide of Tennesseans in the Civil War.

In 2017 Haslam attempted to have the bust moved, but the it not approved.

However, this time Governor Lee is on board with having the Forrest bust move to the State Museum and he's made six recent commission appointments ahead of the meeting. 

Eight months ago, Governor Bill Lee made the following statement: 

The controversy around the bust stems from Forrest being a Confederate General, plantation owner, slave trader, and early member of the KKK after the war. The bust was only put in the Capitol a little more than 40 years ago. 

“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 all Tennesseans," Hedy Weinberg, Executive Director of the ACLU Tennessee, said.

The commission’s vote was an important step, but it still may be a while before the bust is removed. According to the state’s Heritage Protection Act, the commission has 30 days to post its final ruling online. Anyone unhappy with the commission’s decision have two months to appeal the decision in court.


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