In 1978, a bust of the slave trader, Confederate general and early Ku Klux Klan leader Nathan Bedford Forrest was installed in the Tennessee capitol building, immediately prompting protests.
Forty-three years later, the effort to remove the bust has some state Republicans grinding every bureaucratic lever at their disposal to a halt, the latest in a long line of fights on the general’s behalf. This week, several Republicans backed a bill to sack members of a historical commission that voted to remove the bust.
Larry McCluney, commander-in-chief of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, thinks the solution is simple: those offended by the Forrest’s likeness should simply look away.
“We’re dealing with a time period now where everybody is offended by something,” McCluney told TPM. “They talk about the issues of slavery, racism, white supremacy — well, you know, our nation has a history of that, and it’s been around a lot longer than people realize.”
Nowadays, it’s a bit more difficult for elected Republican politicians to stick up for Forrest, whose presence in the capitol is at the center of the fight over the legislation to replace the historical commission.
“I don’t know that it’s specifically related to the three statues that are up on the second floor, but that could be the motivation behind it,” Lt. Gov. Randy McNally (R) told reporters Thursday when asked about the bill.
“But overall, not looking at the motivation, I think it’s a good thing,” he added.
McNally and House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R) have written to the state’s attorney general, raising concerns that the commission didn’t follow the legal requirements for issuing its decision.
Justin Jones, a young activist who has pushed for years for the statue’s removal, said the vote to move the bust out of the Capitol felt like a victory. To Jones, the bust has a clear purpose.
“It’s meant to remind us that, even though they did remove those ‘colored’ and ‘white’ signs in the 1960s and 70s, they never replaced it with a ‘you’re welcome’ sign,” he said. “This symbol is a reminder that we’re not welcome there.”