The Metro Council voted Tuesday to ask the state of Tennessee to plant trees and vegetation to block the view of a controversial, privately owned Nathan Bedford Forrest statue on Interstate 65.
The council, by voice vote, approved a resolution introduced by At-large Councilman Jerry Maynard that asks the Tennessee Department of Transportation and Davidson County Delegation of the Tennessee General Assembly to “take the necessary action” to plant vegetation to block the view of the statue next to the interstate.
The council’s move comes as a recent mass shooting in a historically black church in Charleston, S.C., has prompted a national backlash against the display of the Confederate battle flag.
The council’s vote Tuesday included only a few members who could be heard voicing opposition.
“That statue and those flags do not represent the values of Nashville,” said Maynard, who is currently a paid adviser to Nashville mayoral candidate Bill Freeman.
“We want the vegetation back up so that we do not have to see those things on I-65 that do not show what we are and what we value as Nashvillians.”
Forrest, born in Tennessee, was a lieutenant general for the Confederate Army during the Civil War and first grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.
At issue is a 25-foot fiberglass Forrest statue, designed by the late sculptor and attorney Jack Kershaw, erected on private land in 1998 near Crieve Hall. Kershaw was among a series of attorneys hired by James Earl Ray after being convicted of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968.
The statue has been a source of controversy in Nashville and occasional vandalism ever since it was built. The statue, surrounded by Confederate battle flags, sits on a 3.5-acre property owned by Bill Dorris, a Nashville businessman.
The state cleared vegetation in 1998 in order to make the Forrest statue visible from the interstate. Former state Sen. Douglas Henry, D-Nashville, led those efforts.
The statue first re-entered the public spotlight last month when councilwoman Megan Barry, a candidate for mayor, issued a statement saying she had talked to Republican Gov. Bill Haslam about the possibility of blocking its view. Barry called the statue “an offensive display of hatred.”
Haslam has said he’s not a fan of the statue but wants to explore what the state can legally do.
“It’s not a statue that I like and that most Tennesseans are proud of in any way,” Haslam recently told reporters. “What we have to check are what are the issues? What can we and can’t we do? I don’t think the state has the right to just everything we don’t like to plant shrubberies or trees to block that. We have to make certain that we’re following the law.”