NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Removing a Confederate general’s bust from Tennessee’s Capitol Hill should be “up for conversation” says another top state Republican leader.
The words from Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson echo those Monday from Republican Governor Bill Lee about the future of the second floor bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest, who is one of the most controversial figures in Tennessee history.
While accounts vary some about Forrest’s life, there is little dispute that he was a slave trader before the Civil War, a master battlefield tactician during the conflict and later an early leader of the Ku Klux Klan.
“I feel compelled to be open-minded about it, but ultimately I need to represent the wishes of the Senate,” says Johnson about removing the Forrest bust.
Sen. Johnson remains a member of the Tennessee Capitol Commission which would be the first stop for any changes to public artifacts on the state capitol grounds.
The commission was where a request to remove the bust from previous Republican Governor Bill Haslam failed by a 7-5 margin in 2017.
Johnson was among the Capitol Commission members who voted against moving the Forrest bust saying it represented the wishes then of the Senate’s Republican supermajority.
There was also concern expressed going against the unanimous wishes of Tennessee lawmakers in the late 1970s who approved the Forrest bust to be displayed at the capitol.
“Believe me when we went through this a couple of years ago, iI got very strongly worded emails and phone calls from people on both sides of the issue,” added Senator Johnson.
There also may be more talk about removing a 1931 requirement for governors to sign a proclamation making every July 13th Nathan Bedford Forrest Day.
International attention over this year’s proclamation signed by Governor Lee renewed debate about the Forrest bust.