Eyes on state’s top officers as Confederate general’s capitol bust could be removed

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — For the second time in three years, there will likely be a first-step vote next week on what to do with a Confederate general’s capitol building bust.

In 2017, the State Capitol Commission declined to remove the bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest, but now its the only thing on the agenda of the group’s July 9 meeting.

The bust is listed under “Old Business” as “Consideration of Nathan Bedford Forrest bust.”

Could the initial vote be different this time? Will the bust be seen in a new light as the nation confronts race issues again?

Loud calls to remove the Tennessee capitol’s second floor bust of Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest have been heard from time to time for years.

Forrest was revered for his battlefield tactics during the Civil War but reviled for being a slave trader before the conflict.

The Confederate general by many accounts was later an early leader of the Ku Klux Klan, but some Forrest historians say those accounts are only supported by “secondary” sources.

In September of 2017, the State Capitol Commission voted 7-5 against removing the bust after a push from previous Governor Bill Haslam. Three of those seven no votes came from the state’s constitutional officers elected by state lawmakers; Secretary of State Tre Hargett, State Comptroller Justin Wilson and State Treasurer David Lillard.

“I have a real concern that we are going to undo, potentially undo an act that was taken by elected officials in this state…by a group of people, a commission that is not majority elected,” said Secretary Hargett at the September 2017 meeting of the commission.

Hargett, Comptroller Wilson and Treasurer Lillard are still on the commission but none of them have indicated how they might vote this time.

The comptroller’s office in a statement Thursday said Wilson will make his decision once he hears what may be proposed about any object displayed in the state capitol. The second step to remove the Forrest bust requires approval from the Tennessee Historical Commission.

Governor Lee has indicated that he will make a statement to the State Capitol Commission during its meeting on Thursday.

The bust has been at the capitol since 1978 after the efforts of the late Democratic Nashville State Senator Douglas Henry. It previously was in a spot directly outside the House doors but was moved a few years ago to its present location closer to the state Senate.

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