Tennessee Historical Commission Votes To Move Bust Of KKK Leader From State Capitol To Museum
PULASKI, TN - JULY 11: Members of the Fraternal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan participate in the 11th Annual Nathan Bedford Forrest Birthday march July 11, 2009 in Pulaski, Tennessee. With a poor economy and the first African-American president in office, there has been a rise in extremist activity in many parts of America. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center in 2008 the number of hate groups rose to 926, up 4 percent from 2007, and 54 percent since 2000. Nathan Bedford Forrest was a lieutenant general in the Confederate Army during the American Civil War and played a role in the postwar establishment of the first Ku Klux Klan organization opposing the reconstruction era in the South. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images via Getty Images

On Tuesday, a large majority of the Tennessee Historical Commission voted in favor of taking the bust of Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest, a leader of the Ku Klux Klan, out of the Tennessee state Capitol. The commission voted on a waiver by the Capitol Commission to move the bust from the building to the Tennessee State Museum.

Local reporting stated the bust has been a contentious item for years and has also been the object of protests. The commission passed the measure 25-1, which would reportedly set into motion the removal of the Forrest bust, as well as two others — those of David Glasgow Farragut and Admiral Albert Gleaves. The busts will all be transferred to the museum.

News Channel 11 in Tennessee explains, “Forrest was a Confederate cavalry general who amassed a fortune as a plantation owner and slave trader in Memphis before the Civil War. His involvement with the Klan came after the war.”

Last fall, people who were in favor or opposed to the decision got to discuss their positions in a virtual setting. As reported by News 11, “Most spoke in favor of moving the bust while others say it is a piece of history.”

The Tennessee Lieutenant Governor Randy McNally spoke about how the removal might affect precedent, stating in part, “This is the first time the state has contemplated the removal of a monument or statue in the capitol under the Tennessee Heritage Protection Act.”

On Monday, the American Civil Liberties Union voiced its concerns in a letter in favor of the bust’s removal.

[T]he ACLU of Tennessee strongly urges the Tennessee Historical Commission to remove the Nathan Bedford Forrest bust from our state capitol.

“As a brutal architect of structural racism, Nathan Bedford Forrest represents the forces that undermine the basic framework of civil liberties and civil rights in the United States. Honoring him with a bust in our statehouse is antithetical to the values of decency, respect and equality that most Tennesseans share.

“What we choose to represent and honor in public spaces matters. When visitors to our state capitol are greeted by a monument to slavery and white supremacy, it sends a clear message that our government endorses the oppression and inequality that the bust represents. It is past time for the Nathan Bedford Forrest bust to be removed.

“Taking down Confederate monuments is not about erasing our history. It is about addressing a serious moral failing in our country by educating the public about our nation’s dark history of white supremacy and slavery. Telling the truth about our history is the only way to move forward.

“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.” 

Last year, Republican Governor Bill Lee said that he thought the bust should be moved to the state museum and he recently added six commission appointments. The Historical Commission requires a two-thirds majority vote, and some Republican leaders in the legislature are inquiring with the attorney general as to whether or not a third panel is necessary in order to approve the move.

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