The seven limbs State Construction Commission voted 5-2 to remove the bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest, as well as the busts of two other Tennessee military leaders.
Forrest’s bust was first installed on Capitol Hill in 1978 and has sparked protests and demonstrations ever since. Some have called for more historical context to be added to the bust, but others, including Governor Bill Lee recently, fought to have it moved to the state history museum.
Tennessee’s black legislative caucus has been particularly vocal about how painful it has been to walk alongside the bust, which is prominently displayed between the House and Senate camera as they do their job every day.
“Just as this bust symbolizes the pain and suffering of slavery and terror, removing Nathan Bedford Forrest’s image from a place of honor on the Tennessee Capitol is a symbol of much-needed reconciliation,” said Senator Raumesh. Akbari, a black legislator from Memphis. and the president of the Senate Democratic caucus.
“We certainly have work to do to achieve equality and justice for all people, but today’s vote shows that progress is possible,” he said.
Forrest was a Confederate cavalry general who made 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, terrorizing blacks while seeking to reverse rebuilding efforts and restore white supremacy.
Earlier this year, the Tennessee Historical Commission voted 25-1 to move the three busts just north of the Capitol building to the state museum, noting that it was better equipped to provide the appropriate historical context.
However the State houseTop Republican leaders argued that the raid could not be removed without the approval of the State Building Commission. House Speaker Cameron Sexton and Senate Speaker Randy McNally expressed disappointment with Thursday’s result.
“No one is arguing that Forrest is not a troublesome figure. He is. But there is more to his story. His life ultimately followed a redemptive arc that I hope will be described in great detail in our state museum,” McNally said in a statement. , adding that the vote noted that some advocates will likely find another monument to “demand that we once again kneel at the altar of political correctness.”
The Republican Party-controlled General Assembly has for years refused to promote legislation requiring the removal of the bust.
However, the momentum shifted when Lee shifted and called for the bust to be removed from the Capitol in 2020 amid national outrage over George Floyd’s death in police custody in Minnesota. Floyd’s death sparked a new push to remove Confederate symbols, including Forrest’s bust.
Lee’s position was markedly different from the one he first assumed in 2018, arguing that “the Ku Klux Klan is a part of our history that we are not proud of in Tennessee, and we must remember it and make sure we do not forget it. So I would not advocate removing “the bust”.
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