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Could a final decision on Forrest bust removal be near?

A sketch of Nathan Bedford Forrest used for a mural in the lobby of the John Sevier State Office Building in Nashville on Jan. 25,1941. (Image Credit: Tennessee State Library and Archives)

The yearslong fight over removing a bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest could soon be coming to an end. The State Building Commission is scheduled to take up the matter on Thursday. If past voting patterns by the panel’s members hold, the monument could soon be headed for the Tennessee State Museum.

The Tennessee Lookout‘s Sam Stockard has taken a look at how it could play out:

The State Capitol Commission is set to request Thursday that the State Building Commission concur with its decision to relocate three busts, including one of Confederate Lt. Gen. Forrest, to the State Museum, moving them out of the State Capitol after years of upheaval.

To some degree, the decision pits Gov. Bill Lee against Lt. Gov. Randy McNally and House Speaker Cameron Sexton, who are likely to be outnumbered if they vote against the relocation. But it also could clear up a year-old legal question on the matter. 

One State Building Commission member who hasn’t participated in the process, Comptroller Jason Mumpower, indicated he is likely to vote for relocation. Three other members of the Building Commission have voted already to move the busts as members of other commissions.

“Based on a motion authored by my predecessor, Comptroller Emeritus Justin P. Wilson, the State Capitol Commission and Tennessee Historical Commission have previously agreed that the historical significance of these busts can be better reflected through display at the State Museum,” Mumpower said in a statement.

Lee, who last year sought removal of the Forrest bust from the State Capitol, has scheduled a press conference for Thursday morning, shortly before the State Building Commission is to meet. Its topic has not been revealed.

Read the rest here.

Dems call for prompt removal of Forrest bust from state Capitol

Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) presides over the chamber on June 1, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Senate Democrats are calling for the immediate removal of the Nathan Bedford Forrest bust from the state Capitol after a 120-day waiting period expired on a Tennessee Historical Commission vote to send it to the State Museum.

Here’s the full release:

NASHVILLE — Exactly one year after a state commission that oversees the Tennessee Capitol voted to remove the bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest from the building’s second floor, Democrats in the Senate are urging state officials to finish the job.

“Our state Capitol should be a place that celebrates the values and causes that unite us as Tennesseans,” said Sen. Raumesh Akbari (D-Memphis). “It was never a place for Nathan Bedford Forrest and now the day has come for us to finally remove his bust from these hallowed halls — and it should be done without delay.”

The Capitol Commission approved a petition to remove the Forrest bust on July 9, 2020, but a state law, passed by Republicans several years ago to protect Confederate memorials, requires the state Historical Commission to also sign off on any moving any war memorials.

The Historical Commission approved the petition in March clearing the way for the Forrest bust to be taken to the state museum after a 120-day waiting period also required by state law.

The waiting period ended today.

Although the yearlong process to remove the Forrest memorial concluded today, calls to relocate the bronze bust of the enslaver and early KKK leader began to sound the day the piece was installed in the late 1970s.

Sen. Brenda Gilmore (D-Nashville), who has been a leading voice for removing the bust over her decades of service in the legislature, says state law has been followed and it’s time for the bust to go.

“I have dedicated years of my life to racial justice and one fact I have learned time and time again: To overcome inequality, we must confront our history,” Sen. Gilmore said. “No figure in the modern history of Tennessee better encapsulates this lesson than the bust of KKK grand wizard Nathan Bedford Forrest.

“If we cannot remove a memorial to an enslaver from our state Capitol, how can we begin to make progress on equitable school funding, fair policing and adequate healthcare for all people?” she said. “Removing this bust today does not usher in racial equality, but it shows progress can be made. And the work of justice will continue.”

GOP lawmaker levels impeachment threat over bust removal

Gov.-elect Bill Lee speaks to a Chamber of Commerce event in Memphis on Dec. 6, 2018. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

While many members of the General Assembly are privately breathing a sigh of relief about the defeat of a resolution to throw out a judge over an absentee balloting ruling last summer, they are now being faced with another threatened ouster, this time of Republican Gov. Bill Lee if he were to violate a proposed new ban on moving busts from the second floor of the state Capitol.

Rep. John Ragan (R-Oak Ridge) and Sen. Joey Hensley (R-Hohenwald) have introduced legislation to reconstitute the Tennessee Historical Commission to give the General Assembly control over eight of its 12 members. The panel, which last week OK’d moving the Nathan Bedford Forrest bust to the State Museum, is currently appointed by the governor.

Ragan has also had an amendment drafted declaring:

Notwithstanding any law to the contrary, the statues currently on the second floor of the state capitol must never be altered, removed, concealed, or obscured in any fashion without approval in accordance with this section and must be preserved and protected for all time as a tribute to the bravery and heroism of the citizens of this state who suffered and died in their cause.

If an elected official were to go ahead and do it anyway, “the violation is an impeachable offense and grounds for ouster,” according to the amendment. Public officials would also be personally liable for damages, penalties, and fines.

Ragan was scheduled to present his bill the same day the Historical Commission voted for move the Forrest bust, but he took the measure off notice (which used to mean it was dead, but now indicates it could come back at any time). Hensley is scheduled to present the upper chamber’s version on Wednesday.

The Ragan amendment also includes a provision to add protections for monuments located on private land. If approved, it would likely apply to the garish Forrest statue alongside I-65 in Nashville that its late owner left to either the Sons of Confederate Veterans or the Battle of Nashville Trust. The latter has said it would remove the statue.

It is unlawful for a person, firm, corporation, or other entity acting without authority to multimate, deface, defile, abuse contemptuously, relocate, remove, or obscure a privately owned monument, plaque, marker or memorial that is dedicated is dedicated to, honors, or recounts the military service of any past or present military personnel of this state , the United States of America or the several states thereof, or the Confederate States of America or the several states thereof.

Historical Commision approves move of Forrest bust from Tennessee Capitol

The state Capitol was closed to visitors on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The Tennessee Historical Commission has approved a petition to move the bust of Confederate cavalry general, slave trader, and early Ku Klux Klan leader Nathan Bedford Forrest from the state Capitol.

Petitions to change historical monuments require two-thirds votes by the commission. Twenty-five members of the panel voted in favor, while Joanne Cullom Moore was the lone commissioner voting against.

The waiver authorizes the move of the Forrest bust, along with those of U.S. Navy Adms. David Farragut and Albert Gleaves, to the Tennessee State Museum.

The speakers of the House and Senate have argued that Gov. Bill Lee’s administration skipped a step following the State Capitol Commission’s recommendation to move the bust because it did not seek concurrence from the State Building Commission.