After Decades-Long Fight, Nathan Bedford Forrest’s Bust Is Out Of The Tennessee Capitol

Jul 23, 2021

A sign thanking protesters was placed in front of the bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest after the state building commission voted to remove the statue from the capitol on July 22, 2021.
Credit Paige Pfleger/ WPLN News

The bust of confederate general and KKK grand wizard Nathan Bedford Forrest has been removed from the Tennessee State Capitol. Advocates cleared the final hurdle Thursday, after decades of protesting and months of jumping through legislative hoops.

Gov. Bill Lee voted along with the majority of the state building commission to move the bust to the Tennessee State Museum.

But the vote was not unanimous: the speakers of the Tennessee House and Senate voted against relocation.

Several different state commissions have voted on the fate of the bust in the last few months, but Sen. Brenda Gilmore, D-Nashville, hoped this was the last.

“It seems like every time we got to the finish line that that finish line has been moved,” Gilmore said. “So, it is my prayer today that we have finally arrived.”

For decades, activists pushed for the bust’s removal from the capitol, seeing as Forrest was a slave trader and an early leader of the Ku Klux Klan, but a 2013 law made the process lengthy and arduous.

“This certainly is a cumbersome process, and it makes it very difficult to right a wrong,” Gilmore said. “And this clearly is a wrong, for Nathan Bedford Forrest to be in the state capitol.”

After the vote Thursday, the bust’s move to the museum was presumed to happen soon, but was not expected to be publicized. Activist Justin Jones fought for its removal since 2015 and came to watch the decision come down. He said he was hoping the bust wouldn’t be removed in the middle of the night, unceremoniously.

“I hope we can all come and see the day when the statue is being brought down,” Jones said. “I hope that Tennesseans can come and see, and we can bring young people to come see … we want them to live in a Tennessee that has symbols that represent multiracial democracy and human rights, and not white supremacist terrorism.”

Before he left, Jones placed a sign in front of Forrest’s bust that said, “Thank you to all the protesters who made this happen.”

The following morning, without much fanfare, the bust was moved. Now, the alcove outside the state senate chambers is empty. The likeness of Nathan Bedford Forrest is gone.

Jones took the baton from civil rights leader Kwame Leo Lillard and was arrested in his own fight against the bust.

“These statues are coming down, and I think something else is going to rise up. I think this is a beginning. I’m rejoicing with the ancestors today.”

Jones says he’s celebrating crossing this finish line for all who came before him.