The Tennessee Historical Commission won’t consider removing the bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest from the state capitol until early next year. But some Tennesseans weighed in with public comments at the commission’s meeting Friday.
Among them was Jama Mohamed, who asked commissioners to consider the timing of the bust’s installation in 1978.
“I want people to think about that. Why did this actually go up 113 years after the civil war, and 101 years after Nathan Bedford Forrest’s death?” Mohamed said. “Why did this go up after the sit-ins and civil rights organizing that led to desegregation?”
Forrest was a Confederate general and slave trader, and he is believed to have been the first grand wizard of the KKK, though his supporters say he turned away from white supremacy at the end of his life.
Lee Millar told the commission he thinks all three busts — Forrest; Union Admiral David Farragut, whose bust faces Forrest’s; and World War I Admiral Albert Gleaves — should stay in the capitol, saying they’re “all heroes to Tennessee.”
But Suzanne Merlino said, as a woman in architecture, she understands the statements that symbols like the bust can make.
“What exactly are we defending?” she asked the commission. “And what does this say about where Tennessee stands and the future to come?”
Protestors camped outside the capitol for two months this summer in support of the bust’s removal. They also sought a meeting with Gov. Bill Lee. The State Capitol Commission eventually voted that the bust be removed. Lee later signed a law that makes unauthorized camping on state property a felony offense.
Some groups, including the Sons of Confederate Veterans, oppose the relocation.
The historical commission plans to consider moving it to the Tennessee State Museum, along with two other busts, at a meeting in February.
At today’s meeting the commission identified stakeholders who need official notice of the request to move the bust. Names and addresses for those stakeholders can be submitted to [email protected] until 5 p.m. Monday.