Gov. Bill Lee calls for Nathan Bedford Forrest bust to be relocated to museum

By Natalie Allison  |  Nashville Tennessean

Gov. Bill Lee says the bust of a Confederate general and early Ku Klux Klan leader should be relocated to the state museum, marking the first time Lee has explicitly called for the removal of the monument of Nathan Bedford Forrest inside Tennessee’s Capitol.

Gov. Bill Lee attends a meeting with senior staff in his conference room at the Capitol in Nashville, Tenn. Monday, April 6, 2020.

Lee made the announcement at his Wednesday briefing, ahead of a Thursday morning meeting of the State Capitol Commission, a 12-member body that has authority, along with the Tennessee Historical Commission, to authorize removal of the bust.

Forrest represents pain and suffering and brutal crimes committed against African Americans, and that pain is very real for our fellow Tennesseans,” Lee said.

The Nathan Bedford Forrest bust has spurred a heated debate that began long before all of this national ruckus on monuments that we’re seeing play out today,” he continued, describing the Capitol Commission process as different than “mob rule” playing out elsewhere in the country with the removal of statues by protesters.

While the historical commission already has a meeting set for Friday, the Forrest bust is not on the agenda. A vote on whether to grant approval to relocate it would have to be taken up at another historical commission meeting, likely in October.

There are reasons this particular bust has for 40 years stood above others as controversial,” Lee said of the calls for removal that began as soon as the Forrest bust was installed in the Capitol in 1978, an effort spearheaded by the late Sen. Doug Henry, a Democrat from Nashville.

“It’s because this particular individual, in a particular season of his life, significantly contributed to one of the most regretful and painful chapters in our nation’s history,” Lee said of Forrest.

In addition to his role as a cavalry commander, Forrest was a slave trader before the Civil War and commanded Confederate soldiers at the Fort Pillow massacre. He was also an early leader in the Ku Klux Klan.

Lee said that since taking office, “literally thousands of Tennesseans” on both sides of the issue have reached out to his office. He was elected to do “the right thing,” he said, and believes this decision is right for the state.

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