Tennessee State Museum

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.

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.

New Library and Archives building to open April 13

A rendering of the Tennessee State Library and Archives Building (Image credit: Tennessee Secretary of State’s Office)

The new Tennessee State Library and Archives building is scheduled to open on April 13. Secretary of State Tre Hargett is organizing a parade for the transfer of Tennessee first three constitutions to the new facility on Monday.

The $124 million structure — which some critics have dubbed the Taj Ma-Hargett — has been under construction since 2017. It is located across from the new Tennessee State Museum on Bicentennial Mall.

The Archives are under the jurisdiction of the legislative branch of government, while the museum falls under the aegis of the executive branch.

Here’s the release:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee State Library and Archives, TSLA, is scheduled to open to the public on April 13, 2021, in its new location on the northeast corner of the Bicentennial Mall at the intersection of Rep. John Lewis Way N. and Jefferson St.

“It is an exciting time for TSLA as we are only weeks away from opening the doors to this important resource for our great state,” said Secretary of State Tre Hargett. “This state-of-the-art facility will ensure Tennessee’s history will be properly preserved and accessible for generations to come.”

After more than a year of preparation, TSLA staff started moving and installing collections and exhibits in the new building at the beginning of February.

“Countless hours of planning by our staff has gone into carefully and thoughtfully transporting our historical documents, manuscripts and collections,” said Chuck Sherrill, Tennessee State Librarian and Archivist.

“Thanks to the dedication of our staff and the professionalism of our moving contractor, most of the 500,000 books and 40,000 boxes of archival material in our collection will be available for Tennesseans when we open our doors in April.”

The new 165,000 square foot facility includes a climate-controlled chamber for safely storing historic books and manuscripts with a space-saving robotic retrieval system. A new blast freezer will allow TSLA staff to help save materials damaged by water or insects following floods and other disasters. The new facility also has classrooms for student groups and meeting space for training librarians and archivists.

The larger and more technologically advanced building is a major upgrade from TSLA’s current 1950s era home. The new facility has the much needed space to properly house collections, improved climate controls and increased handicapped access. The extra space and efficiency will increase TSLA’s capacity by nearly 40 percent from 542,700 to 759,500 items.

The 110th General Assembly approved funding in 2017 and 2018 for the new facility. Although the project timeline was adjusted slightly after the March 2020 tornados, construction remained within the $123.8 million budget.

A ribbon cutting event will be held on April 12, with virtual viewing details forthcoming. The new building will open to the public with limited capacity due to COVID-19 safe precautions on April 13.

For the latest information about the new building opening, follow the TSLA’s social media channels: Facebook: Tennessee State Library and Archives and Instagram: @tnlibarchives along with the Secretary of State’s Twitter account: @SecTreHargett.

About the Tennessee State Library and Archives
The office of Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett oversees the operations of the Tennessee State Library and Archives. By law, it is required to preserve Tennessee’s legal and civic history by housing the archives of state government and collections of records from families, churches, businesses and organizations. TSLA is home to many notable historic documents including Tennessee’s Constitutions, letters from Tennessee’s three presidents, Civil War diaries, records of 55 past Governors of the State and original records and maps of the State of Franklin. The collections include copies of virtually every book published about Tennessee and Tennesseans. Original documents from court cases and legislation along with audio recordings of legislative proceedings since 1955 are preserved by TSLA. Copies of the records from every Tennessee courthouse and all surviving Tennessee newspapers can also be viewed in the library’s collections.

Tennessee State Museum gets reaccredited, wins award for food exhibition

The Tennessee State Museum has been awarded a renewed accreditation from the American Alliance of Museums. The facility also won an award from the American Association for State and Local History for an exhibition titled “Let’s Eat! The Origins and Evolutions of Tennessee Food.”

Here’s the  release from the museum,

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – May 20, 2020 – The Tennessee State Museum has received prestigious recognition from two major national museum organizations. The Museum has been re-accredited by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM), the highest national recognition signifying excellence afforded the nation’s museums. In addition, the Museum is a recipient of an Award of Excellence from The American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) for its 2019-20 exhibition, Let’s Eat! Origins and Evolutions of Tennessee Food. The AASLH Leadership in History Awards, now in its 75th year, is the most prestigious recognition for achievement in the preservation and interpretation of state and local history.

“Recognition like this on the national level is an achievement that the Museum and the people of Tennessee can be extremely proud of,” said Ashley Howell, executive director of the Tennessee State Museum. “It indicates that we are operating at the highest level in our service to our community and visitors, and in the presentation of our exhibitions and programs. The museum continues to serve through digital programming during our current closure.”

Originally accredited in 2003, the Tennessee State Museum’s re-accreditation comes more than a year-and-a-half after the Museum opened in its new location at Rosa L. Parks Blvd and Jefferson St, at Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park in Nashville. From October, 2018 through February, 2020, some 275,439 visitors came to the Museum and Military Branch of the Museum, including 56,257 students and adults through field trips and group tours. In addition to its permanent exhibitions, the Museum opened and closed four temporary exhibitions in that time, including Let’s Eat! Origins and Evolutions of Tennessee Food. It is readying its latest, Ratified! Tennessee Women and the Right to Vote, for when the Museum reopens to the public. Complementing its exhibitions, it has hosted dozens of events, lectures, panel discussions and film screenings. Through its statewide education outreach, the Museum offers schools and cultural organizations throughout the state access to its Traveling Trunks program and traveling exhibitions. In its first year in its new location, 55,307 students were served through the Traveling Trunks program.

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TN State Museum offering commemorative stones – at $1,000 to $25,000 — in fundraising effort

Commemorative stones are being sold this month for placement on a pathway leading to the new Tennessee State Museum at $1,000 to $25,000 each — the bigger the donation, the bigger the stone. The buyer/donor can choose a name with an inscription of up to 20 characters.

An AP brief on the move says almost $30 million has been raised for the new museum so far. The goal is $40 million in private donations to go with $120 million in state funding for the new museum, scheduled to open in October.

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Bill would move N.B. Forrest bust to state museum

Rep. Brenda Gilmore, former chair of the Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators, has filed a bill that would move a bust of Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest from the state capitol lobby to the new Tennessee State Museum.

Under current state law, the Capitol Commission must approve any such move – and the panel voted 7-5 in September to leave the Forrest bust in place. HB1466 specifically makes the Forrest bust an exception to that general rule and further directs that it be relocated to the new museum, now under construction.

There’s no listed Senate sponsor yet for the bill, pre-filed for consideration in the legislative session that begins next month.

Note: Previous post on the commission vote is HERE; a post with a bit of bust history HERE.

State museum chairman says comptroller review vindicates new leadership efforts to resolve past troubles

A “limited review” of Tennessee State Museum operations finds past problems – ranging from missing booze to nepotism and other conflicts of interest — are now being addressed and Thomas Smith, chairman of the board that oversees museum operations, tells The Tennessean he sees the report as a vindication of new leadership.

“I believe that this letter from the comptroller’s office is excellent,” Smith said in a phone interview Wednesday.

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Private donations to new state museum at $25M (with $40M goal)

News release from Tennessee State Museum

NASHVILLE — The Tennessee State Museum today announced that fundraising efforts for the new museum have progressed well, with more than $25 million committed by corporations, foundations and individuals statewide during the campaign’s initial “silent phase.

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State museum commission repeals controversial code of conduct

The Douglas Henry State Museum Commission voted Monday to repeal controversial policy changes adopted in July that some state legislators saw as an attempt to muzzle critics, reports the Nashville Post.

The policies included a “code of conduct” that prevented commission members from maligning the Tennessee State Museum or its staff and required notification before a member spoke to the press. It also outlined a process to force the resignation of a commissioner who didn’t abide by the policies — something at odds with the state law that specifies how commissioners are appointed.

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Museum retreats from new code of ethics in face of legislator attacks

The chairman of the Tennessee State Museum’s governing board pledged that the panel would reconsider its controversial “code of ethics” in the face of round of strong criticism from state legislators at a hearing Tuesday.

“Do you want to take the legislature on?” asked Senate Government Operations Committee Chairman Mike Bell, R-Riceville, addressing Thomas Smith, chairman of the Douglas Henry State Museum Commission at the outset of a hearing.

An hour and a half later, Smith declared, “It is not our intent to take on the Legislature… Clearly we are going to go back and evaluate all of these items.”

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