Members of the Senate Democratic Caucus cheered a decision to relocate the bust of early KKK leader and enslaver Nathan Bedford Forrest.
The Tennessee Historical Commission voted 25–1 Tuesday in favor of a petition to move the Forrest statue to the Tennessee State Museum. Since 1978, the Forrest bust has occupied a perch on the second floor of the Capitol Building.
“Let this be one of the last hurdles and an important step in a long line of actions we take in Tennessee to heal the divisions that have long separated Black and White people in this state and county for far too long,” Sen. Brenda Gilmore said. “Our state and our nation have an immense amount of work to do to achieve true racial equality and justice. And while public monuments only play a small role in this work, removing the Forrest bust from the Capitol will correct one mistake made in 1978.”
Forrest bought and sold people from a stable in Memphis where he was known as a particularly brutal enslaver. He later led a battalion of Confederate troops in a massacre of Union soldiers, the majority of whom were Black, at Fort Pillow.
Memorials in public spaces should reflect the values that unite all our families, Sen. Raumesh Akbari said.
“It is past time for this painful symbol of slavery, racial terrorism, and the KKK to be removed from the people’s House, and I’m thankful for the commission’s vote,” Sen. Akbari said. “This is more than symbolic. As a Black elected legislator, I’m looking forward to the day when I can step off the elevator and walk to the Senate chamber without seeing the bust of the first grand wizard of the KKK.”
The commission’s vote was an important step, but it still may be a while before the bust is removed. According to the state’s Heritage Protection Act, the commission has 30 days to post its final ruling online. Those unhappy with the commission’s decision have two months to appeal in court.
Both senators resolved to supporting the removal process until it’s finished.