NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — The Tennessee Historical Commission voted Tuesday to accept the Capitol Commission’s waiver to relocate the Nathan Bedford Forrest bust from the state capitol.
The bust has been at the center of a number of protests over the years. The commission voted 25-1 on the measure, which is the first step to getting the Forrest bust as well as the busts of David Glasgow Farragut and Admiral Albert Gleaves moved to the Tennessee State Museum.
Winter weather delayed discussion on the item that had been scheduled for last month.
People on both sides of the debate spoke virtually before the commission last fall. Most spoke in favor of moving the bust while others say it is a piece of history.
In a statement, Lt. Governor Randy McNally shared his concerns over 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 sent a letter of support in removing the bust.
“[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.”
Click here to view the full letter.
Governor Bill Lee announced last year he believes the bust should be relocated to the state museum and has made six recent commission appointments. A two-thirds vote is needed in the Historical Commission.
Meanwhile, Republican legislative leaders are asking the attorney general if the change requires a third panel’s approval.
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.
*The Associated Press contributed to this report.