Commission votes to remove Nathan Bedford Forrest bust from Tennessee Capitol, but it will not be moved just yet

The Tennessee State Capitol Commission voted July 9 to remove the Nathan Bedford Forrest bust from the state capitol. (Screenshot via
The Tennessee State Capitol Commission voted July 9 to remove the Nathan Bedford Forrest bust from the state capitol. (Screenshot via

The Tennessee State Capitol Commission voted July 9 to remove the Nathan Bedford Forrest bust from the state capitol. (Screenshot via

The Tennessee State Capitol Commission voted July 9 to move the long-debated bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest that sits in the Tennessee State Capitol Building to the Tennessee State Museum.

The vote follows a request from Gov. Bill Lee to vote on the matter and requests from the public in recent weeks to have it removed. Nine commissioners voted in favor and two against.

Logan Hampton, a private citizen appointed by Lee to serve on the commission, said the bust must be moved to the museum but added that the decision would not alter the history of Tennessee’s involvement in the Civil War.

“When the Civil War commenced, Tennessee was a divided state, the last state to secede from the Union. In fact, it has been stated that the great state of Tennessee provided more regiments to the Union than every other Confederate state at the time. Tennessee was and is today a state made up of citizens with diverse, strongly held opinions, all believing they are in the majority. If you doubt it, I’ll invite you to read the hundreds of emails that I’ve received,” Hampton said. “While we make history this day, our action—our vote—will have no impact on the history of the flawed individual [that is the subject of] that debate. Whatever our vote, it will not change, revise or alter history made before our time.”

In addition to voting to move the bust of Forrest, Comptroller of the Treasury Justin Wilson, who also serves on the commission, amended the vote to include moving the busts of Admiral David Farragut and Admiral Albert Gleaves from the capitol to the museum to be part of an exhibit honoring military heroes.

Wilson also proposed that the vacant spots in the capitol be filled with items commemorating state or federal representatives to be approved by the state general assembly. Wilson suggested Doug Henry, the longest serving member of the Tennessee Legislature.

Additionally, Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett called for more women in Tennessee elected to office to be recognized in the empty spaces.

“I think the museum knows how to present this magnificent history, which in my view, regrettably cannot be adequately presented on the second floor of the capitol,” Wilson said. “And I further believe that the Tennessee General Assembly is the appropriate body to decide who should be honored on the second floor [and] that it be limited to elected state and federal officials as well as those activates and events that are connected to that space or to the general assembly.”

Ashley Howell, executive director of the Tennessee State Museum, said the museum would not have any issues accepting all three busts, which are already part of the museum’s collectio, although they would require time to appropriately plan on where they would be displayed.

“Specifically thinking about the Forrest bust, and of course, knowing that this has been discussed, with the state museum being a part of those conversations, we do have thoughts about where the bust could go on display within the interpretation of the state museum,” she said. “Of course, we don’t know who much the bust weighs, so there’s some logistics in that. But we do have a commitment, especially with the amount of conversation around the bust, to really think about how do we display that to facilitate conversation within the context of the bust.”

However, while the motion was approved by the commission, residents should not expect all three busts to be moved just yet. The matter will next be advanced to the Tennessee Historic Commission for another vote, which must pass before the busts can be moved to the museum. A date on when that commission will vote has not been announced.
By Wendy Sturges
A Houston native and graduate of St. Edward's University in Austin, Wendy Sturges has worked as a community journalist covering local government, health care, business and development since 2011. She has worked with Community Impact since 2015 as a reporter and editor and moved to Tennessee in 2019.


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