Controversial Nathan Bedford Forrest bust

bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest

The bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest on display at TN State Capitol.

On the 2nd floor of the State Capitol stands the controversial bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest. One might ask: “Who is Nathan Bedford Forrest?” Nathan Bedford Forrest (1821-1877) was a Confederate general during the Civil War (1861-65). Despite having no formal military training, Forrest rose from the rank of private to Lt. Gen., serving as a cavalry officer at numerous engagements including the Battles of Shiloh, Chickamauga, Brice’s Crossroads and Second Franklin. Few historical figures are as infamous as Nathan Bedford Forrest, and if he has remembered at all today it is for being the founder of the Ku Klux Klan in the wake of the Civil War.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee recently signed a bill declaring Saturday, July 13, as Nathan Bedford Forrest Day in honor of the Confederate general, slave trader and early Ku Klux Klan leader. The governor of Tennessee has been required by law to annually declare July 13 in honor of the general. This has been a tradition in the Tennessee government since 1931. Gov. Bill Lee said he has no plans to dispense with the tradition.

Over the years many protestors have called for the removal of the Nathan Bedford Forrest bust inside the Capitol Building. In January of this year, several students held a protest to remove the bust. TSU student, Jeneisha Harris, said: “We are tired of asking over and over for the same thing. The bust needs to be removed.”

“I think for many of us that know this has happened have often wondered when a governor would ask us to assist in helping change the law,” said a statement made by state Rep. Harold Love to Memphis ABC affiliate WANT.

“Bill Lee said he wants to work with lawmakers to change the racist environment at the Capitol,” said state Rep. Vincent Dixie, “but with the recent issue Speaker of the House Glen Casade and his recent racist statements, it appears that the governor would have sought for dialog from his colleagues rather that signing the Proclamation recognizing Nathan Bedford Forrest Day. It is time for change.”

“Although the code provides for the governor to observe the Forrest holiday, this is an example of our governor and those preceding him using official state power to exhibit insensitivity to people who look like me and are direct descendants of slaves,” said state Sen. Brenda Gilmore. “Do they realize how hurtful this is to Black people?”

The governor did announce that he looks forward to working with lawmakers to change the law next year that requires him to sign a proclamation to honor Nathan Bedford Forrest.