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A look at the history of the Nathan Bedford Forrest bust at the Capitol

Nathan Bedford Forrest Bust with Sign.png
Posted at 2:34 PM, Jul 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-23 11:41:35-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — The bronze bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest - intended to honor the part he played in Tennessee history - has drawn the ire of protesters and legislators alike since it was placed at the Tennessee State Capitol over 40 years ago.

Forrest was a prominent general of the Confederate Army during the Civil War. He was also a first-era leader of the Ku Klux Klan from 1867 until 1869.

The bust has a long history leading up to Thursday's final vote to have it removed from the Tennessee State Capitol and placed at the Tennessee State Museum.

How the bust got to the Capitol
The first calls for the bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest came in 1973. Senate Joint Resolution 54 that year - from late Tennessee Senator Douglas Henry - called for the procurement of the bust, to be placed on display at the State Capitol.

On April 13, 1973, the resolution was approved.

Sculpted by Loura Jane Herndon Baxendale, the bust was installed at the Capitol on November 5, 1978. The installation was completed amid protests against the bust the same day.

In 2010, the bust was moved from its place outside the doors of the House of Representatives to the main corridor between the Senate and House chambers.

Officials call for the bust's removal
Following the Charleston, S.C. mass shooting in June 2015, a number of Democrat and Republican lawmakers and public officials called for the removal of the Forrest bust. Supporting its removal were Representative Jim Cooper, then-Representative Bob Corker, then-Governor Bill Haslam and then-Senator Bob Corker.

While the 2015 discussions didn't make it far enough to have the bust removed, Haslam once again called for its removal in 2017, after violence broke out at the "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Va. It was at this time that Corker suggested moving the bust from the Capitol to the Tennessee State Museum.

On September 1, 2017, despite the calls to remove it, a state commission voted 7-5 to keep the bust at the Capitol. In December that same year, then-Representative, now-Senator Brenda Gilmore filed legislation to have the bust relocated to the Tennessee State Museum.

Protests against the bust have continued consistently since then. In December 2019, 43,000 virtual signatures calling for the removal of the bust were delivered to Governor Bill Lee's office.

The protests hit a fever pitch again in June 2020 after George Floyd's death. On July 9, 2020, the State Capitol Commission voted 9-2 to have the bust removed, along with the busts of along with busts of Admiral David Farragut and Admiral Albert Gleaves.

From the State Capitol Commission vote, the issue had to be taken up with the state's Historical Commission. The Historical Commission voted 25-1 to have the bust removed March 9.

The final vote to have the bust moved from the Capitol to the State Museum was made Thursday by Tennessee's State Building Commission, approving the removal of the bust 5-2. At the time of writing, it's unclear when the bust will be moved.

Nathan Bedford Forrest Bust with Sign.png
The bronze bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest at the State Capitol, with a thank you note to "all the protesters" who made the move happen.