TN Democrats: Remove Nathan Bedford Forrest bust from TN Capitol



The bust of a Confederate general and leading figure in the founding of the Ku Klux Klan should be removed from the Tennessee statehouse, top Tennessee Democrats said Monday.

U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., and state House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, said the bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest has no place in the Tennessee statehouse.

“Symbols of hate should not be promoted by government. South Carolina should remove the Confederate battle flag from its Capitol, and Tennessee should remove the bust of Forrest inside our Capitol,” Cooper said in a statement to The Tennessean.

Fitzhugh said he believes the bust should be displayed in a museum.

“In general our Capitol should be representative of the people of Tennessee. Right now if you’re a young girl, like my granddaughter, Marley Mac, for instance, and you visit the Capitol, there are no busts in the building that look like you,” Fitzhugh said.

“For African-Americans, there’s only one — a fairly recent addition. So I think, generally speaking, we need to revisit what we have displayed in the Capitol so that it better represents a Tennessee for all of us.”

The statements come as the nation debates whether South Carolina should remove the Confederate battle flag flying at its statehouse in the wake of apparently racially motivated murders.

Dylann Storm Roof, 21, is charged with shooting and killing nine people at Emanuel A.M.E. Church, a historically prominent black church in Charleston, S.C., because they were black. The murders spurred many across the country to call on South Carolina to take down the Confederate flag, which continues to fly outside the statehouse.

U.S. Sens. Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander, both R-Tenn., called on South Carolina lawmakers to remove the Confederate flag. Neither immediately provided comment as to whether the Forrest bust should be removed from the Tennessee statehouse. Other state leaders, both Republican and Democrat, also didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment from The Tennessean.

No Confederate flag flies outside the Tennessee statehouse, but the bust of Forrest — who was born in Memphis — sits in between the state House and Senate chambers. The bust sits around a corner from others showing the likenesses of former presidents Andrew Jackson and James Polk.

It’s also roughly 15 paces away from a monument recognizing the 14th and 15th amendments, which recognizes black residents as citizens and gives them the right to vote, and a bust of Sampson W. Keeble, the first black state lawmaker in Tennessee.

At least four feet tall, the copper bust lists only Forrest’s tenure as a general in the Confederate army. It does not note his former leadership of the KKK. He was not a founder of the organization, but was a leader and was elected the first “Grand Wizard” of the organization, the highest possible rank.

He later left and renounced the organization, and advocated for “social and political advancement for blacks,” according to a 2013 report in the Commercial Appeal of Memphis.

Still, advocates have successfully petitioned to have Forrest monuments removed before. In 2013 Memphis gained national attention when it decided to change the name of what was then Nathan Bedford Forrest Park, along with two other parks with names associated with the confederacy.

It wasn’t immediately clear how long the Forrest bust has been in the statehouse. Inscriptions on either side of the bust list the years 1977 and 1988.