Governor Haslam urges action on controversial Memphis statue

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Governor Bill Haslam has sent a letter to the Tennessee Historical Commission asking them to take action on a controversial statue in Memphis.

“As you are aware, recent national events have resulted in renewed attention and debate around individuals honored on public property through statues, monuments or similar means and the state’s role in that process,” the letter said.

He noted the Nathan Bedford Forrest statue in Memphis and a bust of the Confederate general in the state Capitol have generated “significant public discourse” especially after recent events, and asked the Commission take action.

Under state law, historical landmarks cannot be changed or removed without approval from two-thirds of the Tennessee Historical Commission.

In 2016, the city of Memphis filed a petition to remove the Forrest statue from Health Sciences Park, but that waiver was denied. The city has since filed an objection on procedural grounds, but that motion has yet to be heard by the Commission.

The Commission also has not heard a similar request from Middle Tennessee State University. That petition was filed in October 2016.

While Haslam has stated he will not tell the Commission to meet earlier than their scheduled October meeting, he urged them to take action at that time.

“A refusal to act on the petition in October will only prolong the issue and result in criticism of both the established process and the Commission itself, as this process can work effectively only if the responsible entities act in a timely manner.”

“I appreciate the sensitivity around these matters and respect the significant responsibility placed upon you as Commission members,” the governor concluded.

Read the letter here