NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Tennessee House Speaker Pro Tem Bill Dunn says he’s “floating the idea” of replacing a controversial Capitol Hill bust of Confederate General Nathan Bedford with a bust of former Tennessee U.S. Senator Howard Baker.
The likeness of Forrest has only been on the 2nd floor of the state capitol between House and Senate chambers since the late 1970s.
“Nathan Bedford Forrest–not to be partisan–he was a Democrat and Democrats put him there,” says Rep. Dunn. “And if you look around the capitol, there is not a whole lot of Republican statues and busts.”
The late state Democratic Senator Doug Henry led the effort to honor Forrest with the bust.
While renowned for tactics during the Civil War, Forrest was a slave trader before the conflict and an early leader of the Ku Klux Klan afterward before eventually leaving the group.
When asked about it last month, Rep Dunn suggested replacing the Confederate general’s bust with a representation of former U.S. Republican Senator Howard Baker whose political career touched key allies and presidents.
“He was Ronald Reagan’s chief of staff. He was ambassador to Japan which helped Tennessee get a lot of these auto plants that mean so much,” says Rep. Dunn. “You think of the way (Sen. Baker) acted with civility–something we need right now.–you think about how he put his country first during the Watergate scandal.”
In June, Governor Bill Lee said there was a need for some kind of discussion about the future of the Forrest bust.
“At the very least it needs context added to it and maybe more,” said the governor in an interview on June 15th.
The first stop for any changes would be the Capitol Commission which oversees artifacts on Capitol Hill.
Governor Lee earlier this summer said he also wants to repeal a century-old state law honoring Nathan Bedford Forrest’s birthday.