NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — For several hours on Tuesday, Tennessee state lawmakers passionately debated if they will keep honoring controversial Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest with a special day of observance, but the end brought a surprise House committee vote narrowly approving a bill removing the day.
The 7-6 vote came in the House Naming, Designating and Public Acts Committee after contentious debate dealing with several other bills related to Forrest such as removing his bust from the second floor of the the Tennessee capitol building.
The Confederate general was a slave trader before the Civil War, a renowned tactician during it, and by most accounts an early leader of the Ku Klux Klan afterwards.
Earlier in the day, a Senate committee approved a bill that would take away the requirement making governors sign a proclamation for Nathan Bedford Forrest Day, but keeping the day of observance on the state books.
Memphis Representative London Lamar said, “What it means to Tennessee is that we are going to continue to move forward. We are going to continue to make Tennessee a welcoming state for everybody. That we are going to recognize that we don’t have a perfect past, but we can get it right.”
“This is a holiday here, you know it exists for someone who rose from rags to riches by selling people,” said Senator Jeff Yarbro before the committee vote. “It allows the governor to wash his hands of it and he does not have to sign this proclamation.”
Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson who sponsored the measure had a different take without uttering Forrest’s name.
“This is about a separation of powers issue that we should not have it in the law that requires a governor who is elected by the people of Tennessee to perform a certain action relative to these days of observance,” said the Republican leader. “Its a matter under state law for the governor to sign that piece of paper.”
The measure now goes to a calendar committee before heading to the Senate floor, but its at odds with what the House committee passed.
The same House committee also turned back a recommendation to remove Forrest’s bust from the second floor of the capitol building.
“We need to leave our history alone… leave it alone and lets move forward,” said Rep. Paul Sherrell of Sparta.
The same house committee that passed the bill removing Nathan Bedford Forrest Day did not stop there.
It passed a bill suggesting to the Tennessee Capitol Commission that 2nd-floor capitol building space be used to recognize past state officials.
Forrest, whose bust is on the 2nd floor, did not hold political office.
Both bills now go to the calendar committee where they will be scheduled for full House debate.
The Tennessee Capitol Commission is by law the first of two commissions that must approve any changes to capitol artifacts such as the Forrest bust.
The committee recorded the following votes on the bill to remove Nathan Bedford Forrest Day. Those voting “aye” included three Republicans, but no vote was cast by Democrat John Mark Windle who chairs the committee. All those who against the measure were Republicans.
This is a developing story. Stay with News 2 and WKRN.com for updates.