, Tenn. (AP) — A decades-long effort to remove a bust of a Confederate general and early Ku Klux Klan
leader from the Tennessee Capitol
met its final hurdle Thursday, when state leaders approved the final vote required to allow the statue
to be relocated to a museum.
The Nathan Bedford Forrest
bust, as well as busts of two other Tennessee military
leaders, were removed by the State Building Commission
on a 5-2 vote.
The Forrest bust was first installed at the Capitol in 1978, sparking protests
and demonstrations ever since. Some have called for more historical context to be added to the bust, while others, including Gov. Bill Lee
recently, fought to have it relocated to the state's history
legislative caucus has been especially vocal about how painful it has been to walk by the bust, which is prominently displayed between the House
chambers, on a daily basis.
“Much as this bust represents the pain and suffering of slavery
and terror, removing Nathan Bedford Forrest’s likeness from a place of honor in Tennessee’s Capitol is a symbol for much needed reconciliation,” said Sen. Raumesh Akbari, a Black lawmaker from Memphis
and the Democratic
caucus chairwoman in the Senate.
“There is no doubt
that more work
needs to be done to achieve equality and justice for all people
,” she said, “but today
’s vote demonstrates that progress is possible.”
Forrest was a Confederate cavalry general who made his fortune as a plantation owner and slave trader in Memphis before the Civil War
; after the war, he was a leader of the Klan, which terrorized Black people as it sought to reverse Reconstruction efforts and restore white supremacy
Earlier this year, Tennessee's Historical Commission voted 25-1 to relocate the three busts just north of the Capitol building to the state museum, citing that it was better equipped to provide the necessary historical context.
However, top Republican
leaders in the Statehouse argued that the bust could not be removed without approval from the State Building Commission, and both House Speaker Cameron Sexton and Senate Speaker Randy McNally expressed disappointment with Thursday's outcome.
“No one is arguing that Forrest is not a problematic figure. He is. But there is more to his story. His life eventually followed a redemptive arc, which I hope is outlined in great detail in our state museum,” McNally said in a statement
, adding that the vote signaled that some supporters will likely find another monument to “demand that we again kneel at the altar of political correctness.”
For years, the Republican-controlled General Assembly has refused to pass legislation to remove the bust.
However, momentum shifted when Lee reversed his position and called for the bust to be removed from the Capitol in 2020, in response to national outrage over the death
of George Floyd
custody in Minnesota
, which sparked a new push to remove Confederate symbols, including the Forrest bust.
Lee's stance was markedly different from when he was first elected in 2018, arguing that "the Ku Klux Klan is a part of our history that we're not proud of in Tennessee, and we need to be reminded of that and make certain that we don't forget it, so I wouldn't advocate for the bust to be removed."