NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — A long-awaited meeting to discuss whether the Nathan Bedford Forrest bust will be removed from the Tennessee Capitol ended with a 9-2 vote to remove not only Forrest's bust, but two others from the capitol as well.
The commission voted to move the Forrest bust to the Tennessee State Museum, along with busts of Admiral David Farragut and Admiral Albert Gleaves. The former is known for naval victories on the side of the Union Army, while Gleaves served after the Civil War.
A couple of the commissioners expressed concerns that the amendment, which called for the removal of the additional busts, will cause the state's Historical Commission to question their decision. The Historical Commission now has to take up the issue before anything happens with the bust.
During Thursday's meeting, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee expressed his support for the bust's removal. He wanted it to be moved to the Tennessee State Museum – something the Tennessee Black Caucus also supported.
I commend members of the State Capitol Commission for taking up the Nathan Bedford Forrest bust issue and arriving at a thoughtful resolution that provides important historical context for the bust at the State Museum. Scripture implores us to live in peaceful unity and— Gov. Bill Lee (@GovBillLee) July 9, 2020
Sen. Brenda Gilmore (D-Nashville) released the following statement:
"I want to thank the members of the Capitol Commission who voted in favor of removing Nathan Bedford Forrest from our state Capitol. Their action today is a direct result of the people who have made their voices heard on this issue since the bust was installed. Today we have begun to right a wrong.
Today was a victory but the bust remains in the Capitol for now. Just as a political process is protecting the Nathan Bedford Forrest bust, systems of oppression are designed to make people give up. But we are not giving up. We will go to every meeting - no matter what - until this monument to white supremacy comes down."
Black Caucus Chairman G.A. Hardaway (D-Memphis) said he was "encouraged" by the commission's decision. However, he cautioned that while “this is cause for celebration, it’s just the first step” in the process. He said the decision “is an example of the racial reckoning that both Tennessee and the nation is currently dealing with…and hopefully the Historical Commission will allow us to take one more step toward the racial reconciliation that has to happen for all of us to truly heal.”
Activists have been calling for the removal of the bust and have been protesting outside the Capitol for nearly four weeks.
The Forrest bust was unveiled in 1978 and has sparked multiple protests demanding its removal over the years. The Capitol Commission in 2017 voted against moving it to the state museum.
The State Capitol Commission's vote is the first step in relocating the monument. The decision must also go before the Tennessee Historical Commission.
In 2013, state lawmakers created the Tennessee Heritage Protection Act. The law gave the Historical Commission the power to approve or deny the relocation or renaming of any monument. The Capitol Commission now must request a waiver from the Historical Commission to allow the state to move the statue.
The commission also must wait 60 days after a waiver is requested to make a decision.