The bust of a Ku Klux Klan leader, Confederate general and slave trader has been removed from Tennessee’s state capitol after more than four decades on display.
The removal of the statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest on Friday came after the state building commission approved its relocation to the Tennessee State Museum on Thursday in a 5-2 vote.
“After more than a year in the making, this process has finally come to a close,” said the Republican governor, Bill Lee, who voted in favor of the removal and had previously said he believed the bust should be moved last summer.
“I thank the members of the capitol commission, historical commission and state building commission for providing thoughtful input and ensuring confidence in the process. The state museum provides the full historical context for these figures as we remember our state’s rich and complex past.”
Members of the state’s legislative Black caucus celebrated the removal of the bust. Representative London Lamar tweeted that the decision had made her emotional. “Not even going to lie, this moment made me shed tears!! Recognizing this moment honors those who died because of racial injustices. They are the heroes,” she said.
“The key word that keeps coming up into mind is the word finally,” Justin Jones, a Nashville-based activist who has been leading protests related to the bust since 2015, told the Tennessean after the vote on Thursday. “Finally the commission has taken a step forward. Finally they have acknowledged that this statue is wrong, and what it represents does not represent the state of Tennessee.”
Lamar and Jones could both be seen celebrating the removal at the Capitol in photos and videos posted to social media.
“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,” Raumesh Akbari, chair of the state senate’s Democratic caucus, said.
According to the Tennessean, the two votes opposing the move were cast by the House and Senate speakers.
“This is not the end. It is the beginning,” the lieutentant governor ans senate speaker Randy McNally said in a statement. “The left will move on to the next figure or monument and demand that we again kneel at the altar of political correctness.”
Forrest served as a Confederate cavalry general, traded in enslaved people and was a plantation owner. He was later a leader of the Ku Klux Klan.
The bust was installed in the state capitol in 1978, despite fierce opposition. A newspaper clipping from 1980, republished by the local TV station WBIR, shows leaders of the Tennessee chapter of the Ku Klux Klan meeting below the bust wearing their robes and hoods.
McNally argued that Forrest was a controversial figure but that there was more to his story. “His life eventually followed a redemptive arc which I hope is outlined in great detail in our state museum,” McNally said.
Busts of the Union navy admiral David Farragut and US navy admiral Albert Gleaves also were moved to the Tennessee State Museum. The relocations were a part of an agreement that military leaders should no longer be displayed in the Capitol.