NASHVILLE, Tennessee (AP) – A decades-long effort to remove the bust of a Confederate general and chief Ku Klux Klan from the Tennessee Capitol passed its final hurdle on Thursday, with heads of state approving the necessary final vote to allow the movement of the statue to a museum.
The seven members of the State Building Commission voted 5-2 to remove the bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest as well as the busts of two other Tennessee military leaders.
The Forrest bust was first installed on Capitol Hill in 1978 and has since sparked protests and demonstrations. Some called for adding more historical context to the bust, but others, including Governor Bill Lee recently, fought for it to be transferred to the State History Museum.
The Tennessee Black Legislative Caucus in particular highlighted how painful it was to walk beside the bust, prominently displayed between the House and the Senate Chamber, as they go about their work each 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 in the Tennessee Capitol is a symbol of much needed reconciliation.” said Senator Raumesh Akbari, a black lawmaker from Memphis. and the chair of the Democratic Senate caucus.
“There is no doubt that we have work to do to achieve equality and justice for all, 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 he sought to reverse reconstruction efforts and restore white supremacy.
Earlier this year, the Tennessee Historical Commission voted 25 to 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 proper historical context.
However, top Republican leaders at the Statehouse argued that the bust could not be removed without the approval of the State Building Commission. Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton and Speaker of the Senate Randy McNally both expressed disappointment with Thursday’s result.
“No one is claiming that Forrest is not a problematic character. He is. But there is more to his story. His life ultimately followed a redemptive arc which I hope is described in detail in our museum. State, “McNally said in a statement, adding that the vote indicated some advocates would likely find another monument to” demand that we kneel down again at the altar of political correctness.
The GOP-controlled General Assembly has refused for years to push forward legislation calling for bust removal.
However, the momentum changed when Lee shifted his stance and called for moving the Capitol bust in 2020 amid nationwide outcry over George Floyd’s death in Minnesota custody. Floyd’s death sparked a new push to remove Confederate symbols, including the bust of Forrest.
Lee’s position was markedly different from when he took office in 2018, saying that “the Ku Klux Klan is part of our history that we are not proud of in Tennessee, and we need to remember that and make sure that we do not forget it. I would therefore not recommend removing ”the bust.
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