NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — “There needs to be strong dialogue about what happens to that bust,” said Governor Bill Lee as a protest Wednesday called for removing the bust of controversial Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest that been on the Tennessee Capitol’s second floor for more than 40 years.
The governor has had similar words about the bust since it became an issue for him after he, by state law, signed the yearly proclamation making July 13 Nathan Bedford Forrest Day.
Other Tennessee governors for nearly a century had quietly signed such proclamations, but it was the Forrest bust that drew a lot of questions at Governor Lee’s weekly COVID-19 briefing.
“I have said this, though. Something should be done,” said Governor Lee about capitol bust of Forrest. “That particular individual and his role in history is particularly painful to African-Americans in this state and for that reason, I think there should be a strong consideration and strong dialogue around what happens to that bust.”
Nathan Bedford Forrest gained fame as Confederate general renowned for his tactics, but shame as a slave trader before the Civil War.
Forrest’s role in the massacre of Union black soldiers at Ft. Pillow has many accounts as do accounts of being an early leader of the Ku Klux Klan before most say he disavowed the group.
The Forrest bust was placed in the Tennessee Capitol in the late 1970s due to the efforts of the late Nashville Democratic Sen. Douglas Henry who was a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
There have been a few protests right below the bust for years and an effort led by former Republican Governor Bill Haslam to remove the bust, but in it failed 7-5 in 2017 before the Tennessee Capitol Commission—the first step by law for removing Capitol Hill artifacts line the Forrest bust.
“What’s really important is that we not draw lines and choose sides,” added Lee on Wednesday with words he has often used about the bust, “Its that we understand these answers are complicated and they require dialogue, so what I would do is I would sit down with those who advocate keeping it. I would sit down with those who advocate getting rid of it.”