Tennessee Historical Commission hears comments on effort to rid state capitol of Confederate General bust

Middle TN

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Efforts are in motion to remove the bust of a Confederate general from the Tennessee State Capitol.

People on both sides of the debate spoke during a hearing Friday before the Tennessee Historical Commission.

“Why continue supporting a figure who in his life traded human life for coin?” one speaker said during the meeting, which was held virtually.

The decision is now in the hands of the Tennessee Historical Commission. The group’s meeting Friday included a hearing about the waiver submitted by the State Capitol Commission to move the bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest and others to the Tennessee State Museum.

“I hope that collectively, this full history when presented can help tell the story of these figures, tell the story of Tennessee in the 1970s when these statues were created,” said Dr. Benjamin Sawyer during the hearing.

Most spoke in favor of moving the bust with the exception of three people.

“There are several good things, many good things about General Forrest,” said one proponent of keeping the bust at its location.

The purpose of the hearing was so speakers could share their views on what people or entities should be notified of the Capitol Commission’s waiver petition.

“To widen the circle of stakeholders, that the stakeholders not just be pro-Confederate organizations like the Ku Klux Klan, or like the Sons of Confederate,” one speaker said.

It’s a hearing House Speaker Cameron Sexton and Lieutenant Governor Randy McNally felt should not have been held. Both signed a letter to the Historical Commission dated October 14, 2020, saying the State Building Commission needed to be part of the process of deciding to remove the bust.

“We just received this letter two days ago on October 14th. Our lawyers were immediately advised of it and they have not yet fully advised us as to the impact on the capitol commission waivers petition,” said Chair Derita Coleman Williams. “To now, two days ago when this ex-parte letter arrived, we had not received any communication about it. How this controversy will affect our hearing in February is unknown at this time.”

The board decided to proceed with the meeting’s agenda as is.

“Right now because of the timing and because of the opportunity they have between now and February to take more appropriate steps, I think that we should proceed,” said Tennessee Historical Commission board member Sam Elliot.

Participants in the public hearing made several suggestions about groups or people who should be notified of the process that’s currently underway. In the end, board members decided speakers should email specific contact information about their suggested stakeholders.

“It is highly disappointing the Historical Commission appears to have ignored the clearly prescribed legal process. This is the first time the state has contemplated the removal of a monument or statue in the capitol under the Tennessee Heritage Protection Act. Establishing precedent is of paramount importance. I will be consulting with my legal counsel over the next few days to attempt to discern the proper next steps in light of today’s action,” said Lt. Governor McNally in a statement to News 2 after the Historical Commission meeting.

Speaker Sexton was also disappointed about the hearing still being held.

“From the beginning, the goal has been to follow the process and requirements laid out in current law. Working with Lt. Gov. McNally and the legislature, Speaker Sexton feels like we have conveyed our thoughts and the direction moving forward. We are hopeful this matter will be in front of the State Building Commission soon,” said spokesperson Doug Kufner.

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