NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Gov. Bill Lee announced Wednesday that a state panel that has the authority to help remove the bust of a former Confederate general and early leader of the Ku Klux Klan from Tennessee’s state Capitol will take up the issue next week.
The Republican governor said in a press release that the Capitol Commission would meet July 9, but no agenda was posted. However, Lee later told reporters that the group would address the Nathan Bedford Forrest bust.
Lee filled a vacant commission seat last week, naming Logan Hampton, president of historically Black Lane College, to serve on the Capitol Commission. Lee also made Finance Commissioner Butch Eley chairman of the panel.
Forrest was a Confederate cavalry general who amassed a fortune as a plantation owner and slave trader in Memphis before the Civil War. His involvement with the Klan came after the war.
Removing the bust requires approval from the Capitol Commission before going to the state’s Historical Commission as laid out by the Tennessee Heritage Protection Act. It’s a lengthy process, which means that even if the Capitol signs of the bust’s removal, the process likely will linger for months.
The bust was unveiled in 1978 and has sparked multiple protests demanding its removal over the years. The Capitol Commission in 2017 voted against moving it to the state museum. The national outcry over the death of a Black man, George Floyd, in police custody in Minnesota has sparked a new push to remove Confederate symbols, including the Forrest bust.
The Republican-controlled Legislature in Tennessee refused to advance legislation calling for the bust’s removal before adjourning last month despite impassioned pleas from Black lawmakers.
Instead, Republican lawmakers approved a proposal that would give them more representation on the Capitol Commission. Under the bill, the House and Senate speakers could appoint private citizens to the panel.
Lee has not yet signed that bill into law, meaning legislative leaders likely won’t have time to appoint their own members before the panel meets next week.
“Lt. Governor McNally would prefer to have the additional legislative appointees in place before any meetings are held or any binding votes are taken but that is ultimately at the discretion of the chairman of the commission,” said Adam Kleinheider, McNally’s spokesman.
Additionally, McNally asserted in several tweets that “left-wing activists” across Tennessee were pushing an anti-American agenda without offering specifics inside the state, but instead offered national examples of calls to remove monuments of George Washington, Christopher Columbus and Andrew Jackson.
“They have made clear Forrest is merely the tip of the iceberg,” McNally tweeted. “They mean ultimately to uproot and discard not just Southern symbols, but American heroes and history as well.”
McNally has supported adding more context to the Forrest bust, which is displayed prominently between the House and Senate chambers. Lee has also called for adding more historical context but has also said recently that “statues are not just snapshots of our history, they are a window into what we value.”
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