Waiting period ends with uncertainty over Forrest bust fate
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A required 4-month waiting period for the removal of a Nathan Bedford Forrest bust from the Tennessee Capitol building has expired, but if and when it will be removed is still uncertain, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reported.
That’s because top Republican lawmakers say the removal request should have gone through the State Building Commission but didn’t.
The Tennessee Historical Commission voted 25-1 in March to move the bust of the Confederate general and early Ku Klux Klan leader from the Capitol to the nearby Tennessee State Museum. But the removal plan only becomes effective 120 days after the decision is posted on the commission’s website. That means the earliest it could have been moved was Friday, when the waiting period ended.
Tennessee Democrats, including prominent Black lawmakers, were asking for just that.
Sen. Brenda Gilmore of Nashville, who has fought for years to remove the bust that was first unveiled in 1978, said “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 health care for all people?”
Meanwhile, Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, the Republican Senate speaker, and House Speaker Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, have opposed the removal. The two white lawmakers claim the Historical Commission did not have the authority to approve of the removal because it wasn’t first approved by the seven-member State Building Commission, on which both McNally and Sexton sit.
A May 15 legal opinion written by Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery said both sides had legitimate legal views of the situation.
Gov. Bill Lee initially resisted calls to relocate the Bedford bust just before taking office in 2018. Yet by 2020, he said he wouldn’t oppose adding context to the Forrest bust, and has since said the opportunity for “full context” on Forrest is available only in the state museum.
Tennessee’s Black legislative caucus has particularly been vocal how painful it has been to walk by the bust, displayed prominently between the House and Senate chamber, as they carry out their work each day.
Asked about plans for removal, Lee spokesperson Casey Black said in a statement, “We are working to determine next steps and will provide updates accordingly.”
Adam Kleinheider, McNally’s spokesperson, said in a statement that McNally understands the removal will be on the State Building Commission’s July 22 meeting agenda.