The bust of a Confederate general and early Ku Klux Klan leader that had been displayed prominently inside of the Tennessee Capitol for decades was removed from its pedestal on Friday.
The image of Nathan Bedford Forrest has sparked protests ever since its installation in 1978. Some called for adding historical context, while others, including Republican Gov. Bill Lee, successfully argued for having it moved to the Tennessee State Museum, just north of the Capitol.
Forrest was a Confederate cavalry general who amassed a fortune before the Civil War as a Memphis slave trader and plantation owner. After the war, he was a leader of the Klan, which terrorized Black people, reversing Reconstruction efforts and restoring white power in the South.
The busts of Union Navy Adm. David Farragut and U.S. Navy Adm. Albert Gleaves also were moved to the museum on Friday, part of an agreement that military leaders shouldn’t be displayed in the Capitol.
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Tennessee’s Black legislative caucus was particularly vocal about how painful it was to walk past the bust, displayed prominently between the House and Senate chambers, as they carried out their work each day.
“Removing the likeness of Nathan Bedford Forrest from a place of honor in Tennessee’s Capitol is a symbol for much needed reconciliation. No doubt we have work to do to achieve equality and justice for all people, but today’s vote shows that progress is possible," said Sen. Raumesh Akbari, a Black lawmaker from Memphis who chairs the Senate’s Democratic caucus.
Tennessee’s State Building Commission voted 5-2 to remove the busts on Thursday, the final hurdle in a months-long process.