Gov. Bill Lee: Capitol Commission to take up Confederate bust removal

Gov. Bill Lee: Capitol Commission to take up Confederate bust removal
Nathan Bedford Forrest bust (Source: WMC Action News 5)

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.

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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.

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