Statue of the Confederate General and former Ku Klux Klan leader has been a subject of controversy for decades.
A commission in the US state of Tennessee has voted overwhelmingly to remove a bust of a Confederate general and early Ku Klux Klan leader from its Capitol, marking a key victory in a decades-long fight over the controversial sculpture.
However, it could still be months before the Tennessee Historical Commission signs off on the final go-ahead to relocate the Nathan Bedford Forrest bust from the Capitol to the Tennessee State Museum.
The commission, voting 25-1, agreed the bust should be moved just north of the Capitol building to the state’s museum, noting it was better equipped to furnish the appropriate historical context. The panel heard hours of testimony largely in favour of the bust’s removal before voting.
The decision comes as the US has faced increasing pressure to reckon with its legacy of slavery, with statues and memorials to Confederate figures increasingly challenged and, at times, forcibly removed.
The bust at the Tennessee Capitol was first unveiled in 1978 and has stirred strong opposition for decades.
The bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest — a Confederate general, slave trader and early Ku Klux Klan leader — should be removed from the state Capitol, the Tennessee Historical Commission voted.
— Alison Gerber (@aligerb) March 10, 2021
Forrest had amassed a large fortune as a plantation owner and slave trader in Memphis before the Civil War broke out in 1861.
A Confederate cavalry general during the war, he became a post-war leader of the Klan, which terrorised Black people and sought to reverse Reconstruction efforts and restore white supremacy.
“Forrest represents pain, suffering and brutal crimes committed against African Americans, and that pain is very real for our fellow Tennesseans as they walk the halls of our statehouse and evaluate how he could be one of just the nine busts elevated to a place of reverence,” Governor Bill Lee said in a recorded video message during Tuesday’s meeting.
The commission noted there still remains an opportunity for those opposed to the bust’s removal to go before a court to demand a review.
If no review is requested, the removal plan becomes effective 120 days after the decision is posted on the commission’s website.
Along with the Forrest bust, the Historical Commission agreed that the busts of David Farragut, a Union military leader, and US Navy Admiral Albert Gleaves be moved from the Capitol to the state museum.
The decision was that state and federal officials should be honoured at the museum rather than in the Capitol.