Tennessee Capitol Commission votes to remove Nathan Bedford Forrest bust


NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WZTV) —The Tennessee Capitol Commission has voted to remove the Nathan Bedford Forrest Bust from the Tennessee Capitol, with an amendment to also remove two other military-based statues.

The debate over whether the bust of Forrest, a Confederate general and early leader of the Ku Klux Klan, should stay at the Tennessee State Capitol has been going on for years, but recent protests for racial equality have reignited calls for it to be removed. The effort was shot down in 2017.

Members of the Capitol Commission voted Thursday to remove the bust. It next goes to the Historical Commission.

  • Members who voted for the removal: Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett, Butch Eley, Christi Branscom, David Salyers and Hallerin Hill
  • Members who voted against the removal: Sen. Jack Johnson

Comptroller Justin Wilson, who voted against the bust removal in 2017, proposed the amendment to remove statues of Civil War Union David Admiral Farragut and WWI General Albert Gleaves, along with Forrest. He wants an exhibit made in the Tennessee State Museum on "great military leaders," while limiting second floor busts to just state or federal elected officials.

During the meeting, Sen. Brenda Gilmore broke down while addressing members.

Through tears, she said, "I can hear the wails and cries of over 200 surrounded soldiers, soldiers who were surrendered by still slaughtered by his command. Surely, an unnecessary killing. I can hear the mothers and the crying children and feel their fear when the KKK terrorized them for no other reason than they were black."

Sen. Gilmore said she cries every time she sees the bust, sitting on a pedestal.

"Why is it some white people hate me just because my skin is black," Sen. Gilmore said.

The move also received opposition. Sen. Joey Hensley (R-Hohenwald) defended the bust and denied Forrest was a KKK Grand Wizard.

"If we take down our symbols of heritage, we are going to lose our history," Sen. Hensley said. "And we all know this bust is only the beginningI think Tennessee is doing pretty well. We have a lot of black legislators and it’s obvious Tennessee is doing the right thing, but I implore you on the commission to keep the bust there."

Sen. Hensley also said the Fort Pillow massacre is made up, while saying "false" news reports have been around since before these events occurred.

"The times were different 150 years ago, 200 years ago and we can't hold these historical figures to what we believe today.," Sen. Hensley said.

"If we take down our symbols of heritage, we are going to lost our history. And we all know this bust is only the beginningI think Tennessee is doing pretty well. We have a lot of black legislators and it’s obvious Tennessee is doing the right thing, but I implore you on the commission to keep the bust there."

"The times were different 150 years ago, 200 years ago and we can't hold these historical figures to what we believe today."

Gov. Lee suggested during a news conference Wednesday that the bust should be moved to the Tennessee State Museum and have added context to tell Forrest’s ‘entire complicated history.” He also spoke at the meeting.

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