nathan bedford forrest

Namesake town pushes back against moving Farragut bust

The call to move the bust of Admiral David Farragut from the state Capitol is rubbing residents of his namesake town in East Tennessee the wrong way. As KnoxTNToday’s Betty Bean reports, Farragut was born in Lowe’s Ferry on what was then called the Holston River. He moved away as a child before embarking on a Navy career that later led his home town to be named after him and the high school mascot to be called the Admirals.

According to Bean:

Farragut had a spectacular career. He was the first-ever American admiral (the Navy had theretofore resisted the hoity-toity British-sounding title) and served an astounding 60 years, capped by decisive, Civil War momentum-changing victories in New Orleans and Mobile Bay.

He probably didn’t say, “Damn the torpedoes and full-steam ahead!” after the Rebs sank one of his ships and then took aim at the one he was on, but he said something very like it, and was a key figure in the ultimate Union victory.

Comptroller Justin Wilson successfully amended a motion to move the bust of Forrest, long a controversial figure because of his career as a slave trader and early leader of the Ku Klux Klan,  to also include the busts of Farragut and fellow Admiral Albert Gleaves, who served in the Spanish-American War and World War I.

The State Capitol Commission voted 9-2 to recommend the removal of the busts to the Tennessee Historical Commission. That latter panel can consider amendments to the proposal, but such a move would likely draw out an already lengthy process. Petitions can only be taken up six months after they are received, and the clock resets for any amendments.

 

Prominent Tennessee businesses laud Lee effort to move Forrest bust

A group of prominent Tennessee businesses is lauding Gov. Bill Lee’s efforts to move the bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest out of the state Capitol.

The Monday letter was signed by 34 companies, including Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee, Bridgestone, Cracker Barrel, FedEx, Google, HCA Healthcare, Nissan, Unum, Vanderbilt, and Volkswagen. The letter was also signed by Pilot Co., the truckstop chain controlled by the family of former Gov. Bill Haslam.

Here’s the text of the letter:

Dear Governor Lee:

We, the businesses listed below, wish to applaud you and the State Capitol Commission for taking an important first step towards the removal of the bust of Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest 
from the Tennessee State Capitol building.

This controversial bust was installed in the Capitol in 1978 despite widespread objections and remains a symbol of oppression for many Tennesseans. A statue of a man who was the first Grand Wizard of the
Ku Klux Klan should not be granted a place of honor in the State Capitol, a building that must remain a beacon of hope, liberty, and democracy.

As leading businesses and corporations in the state, we recognize our  obligation to stand for equality and justice — not just for our employees, but for all Tennesseans. Honoring those who propagated racism and prejudice only serves to further divide our communities and reinforce inequities in our society.

We strongly urge the Tennessee Historical Commission to vote for the prompt removal of the Forrest bust from the Tennessee State Capitol building and ask all Tennessee policymakers to consider additional avenues to recognize wrongs against the Black community and make racial justice a priority. 

Family of senator who led effort to place Forrest bust in Capitol supports its removal

The doors of the state Capitol were closed to the public on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The State Capitol Commission voted 9-2 to recommend removing the bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest from the statehouse, clearing the first major hurdle toward getting the monument relocated to the Tennessee State Museum.

Forrest gained notoriety for his exploits as a Confederate cavalry general during the Civil War, but his prior career as a slave trader and his later leadership role in the Ku Klux Klan have long raised protests about whether it was appropriate for his likeness to be so prominently displayed at the Capitol.

While the bust was placed in the Capitol in 1978 at the behest of what was a rural Democratic majority in the General Assembly, Republicans have largely taken up the mantle of resisting its removal since taking over control. In the Senate, personal factors have come into play. The late Sen. Douglas Henry (D-Nashville) was instrumental in getting the bust placed in the Capitol in the 1970s. Henry, the longtime chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, is revered by Republicans who served with him for his conservative approach to fiscal and social issues.

But Henry’s children and adult grandchildren wrote to the State Capitol Commission this week to urge the panel to move Forrest bust out of the building:

My siblings and I have debated the following question recently: would our father see the continued presence of the bust of Forrest as a benefit to the state of Tennessee? My brother Bob wrote to me, in a manner reminiscent of our late father, that he believes that our father would “concede posthumously, to its dismissal from the Capitol Building.” We, the undersigned, agree.

Read the full letter below:

Dear Commissioner Eley,

Hello. My name is Kathryn Henry-Choisser, and I am one of the late Sen. Douglas Henry’s daughters. It has come to my attention that the State Capitol Commission will be meeting on July 9th, and that the fate of the bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest is likely to be decided at that meeting. I, along with most of my siblings and a majority of the grandchildren of voting age, politely request that the statue be removed.

As you know, 47 years ago, my father first proposed that a bust of Forrest be placed in the beautiful Tennessee State Capitol. Funds were raised, a sculpture was created, and a few years later the bust was placed in a niche on the second floor of the Capitol. I feel confident that the placement of the sculpture caused anger, disappointment, and shock to many Tennesseans in 1978. Over the decades however, we have all been made increasingly aware of the pain and anguish this statue continues to cause. I believe that this pain and anguish can no longer be ignored. I also believe, as did my father, that lawmakers are held to a higher moral standard than the average citizen, since the lawmakers’ beliefs and the laws they pass have long term legal and ethical implications for the voters they represent. So I must ask you why – in the sacred halls where laws affecting all Tennesseans are passed – is this statue allowed to remain? How can the laws be trusted, the lawmakers themselves be trusted- if the presence of a man such as Nathan Bedford Forrest is allowed?

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Vacancy on Capitol Commission puts off decision on Forrest bust

It could be months before Gov. Bill Lee fills a vacancy on the Tennessee Capitol Commission, meaning the panel will remain in a holding pattern about whether to recommend the removal of a bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest.

The AP’s Jonathan Mattise reports that Lee is focused on other priorities since his appointee Deputy Chief Tyreece Miller of the Jackson police stepped down from commission. Miller, who is black, has been nominated by President Donald Trump to become the U.S. Marshal for West Tennessee.

“There have been other things that have filled the docket between that point and now,” Lee told reporters in Nashville. “But we will be making an appointment to that commission over the next few months and they will be meeting again. They haven’t determined when they will be meeting. But I’m sure that will unfold over the next several weeks.”

 

Capitol Commission won’t vote on Forrest bust at next meeting

Finance Commissioner Stuart McWhorter, left, participates in a meeting of the State Funding Board in Nashville on Jan. 21, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

A long-awaited meeting of the State Capitol Commission next month won’t decide the fate of the Nathan Bedford Forrest bust located outside the House and Senate chambers.

Finance Commissioner Stuart McWhorter told reporters on Tuesday that he envisions a series of at least two meetings to sound out supporters and opponents of moving the bust of the former slave trader, Confederate general, and early leader of the Ku Klux Klan.

Even if the Capitol Commission were to seek a waiver under the Tennessee Heritage Protection Act to remove the bust, a lengthy process would ensue. The State Historical Commision must wait at least 60 days to hold an initial hearing once a petition is filed. A final hearing can’t take place until at least 180 days after that. And any determination made by the panel (it would take two-thirds of the members to remove the monument) would have to wait 120 days from the final notice being posted on its website from going into effect.

And of course not of that takes into account any likely court challenges.

In other words, it’s going to be a while. Unless lawmakers decide to jump start the process by filing legislation to bypass the hurdles put in place by the Heritage Protection Act.