Protesters urge removal of N.B. Forrest bust; Haslam backs the idea

After demonstrators at the Tennessee state capitol called for removing a bust of Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest now housed in the building today, Gov. Bill Haslam issued a statement saying he favors the idea. The protest — like others around the nation — was partly inspired by last weekend’s violent events in Charlottesville, Va., involving protests and counter-protests over removing a statute of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

Says the Haslam statement: “My position on this issue has not changed – I do not believe Nathan Bedford Forrest should be one of the individuals we honor at the Capitol. The General Assembly has established a process for addressing these matters and I strongly encourage the Capitol Commission and the Historical Commission to act.

From the Times Free Press report on the demonstration:

“Goodbye Nathan Forrest, I’m going to let it shine,” the group sang regarding Forrest, an early leader of the Ku Klux Klan.

The Forrest bust for years has been situated on the second floor of the Tennessee Capitol outside the House and Senate chambers. Efforts to remove the Forrest bust backfired… when the General Assembly instead passed a law in 2016 making it harder to remove historical statues or monuments named after controversial figures.

The law requires two thirds approval of the Tennessee Historical Commission before such monuments are removed.

The Tennessee demonstrators later went down to the state Capitol’s first floor where they demanded to hear from Republican Gov. Bill Haslam, who didn’t appear to be in his office.

Further, from The Tennessean:

Outside the governor’s office, which was roped off and guarded by Tennessee Highway Patrol troopers, protesters asked if the four state lawmakers with them — Democratic Reps. Brenda Gilmore, Harold Love and G.A. Hardaway and Democratic Sen. Jeff Yarbro — could enter.

They went in and came out about 30 minutes later saying the governor would release an additional statement.

The governor has expressed his sentiment that the Nathan Bedford Forrest bust has no place in the Capitol,” Love said to cheers. “But it is a legislative process. It is up to us to do it the right way so that it can’t be put back in.”

Gilmore said the public showing had motivated her to renew her fight.

“I think it has been painful to me as a black caucus member, and also other members of the General Assembly, when we pass by this symbol of a very dark period in our history that represented hate and slavery,” she said.

“And although there has been legislation that has been passed that makes it very difficult and very cumbersome for us to remove symbols that represent hate, I think (this protest) has renewed my spirit to try again.”

Note: The Forrest bust, placed in the capitol on Nov. 5, 1978, was sculpted by Jane Baxendale, widow of a Sons of Confederate Veterans leader, with the costs largely covered by funds raised by the organization, according to an SCV website. There’s also an official “Nathan Bedford Forrest Day” every year on July 13 (Forrest’s birthday), duly proclaimed by the governor, who has a “duty” to do so under state law. This year’s proclamation for the “worthy observance,” signed by Haslam, is HERE. A 2015 column on efforts to remove the bust is HERE.

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