There’s going to be a new debate next year about the future of the bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest in the Tennessee Capitol.
The announcement came on Wednesday afternoon after pleas from activists — and some Republican lawmakers.
Tennessee Finance Commissioner Stuart McWhorter, the chairman of the State Capitol Commission, committed to having a meeting before the end of February.
“There are varying and diverse and passionate opinions about this,” McWhorter said during a commission meeting to discuss unrelated matters. “So, for that reason it requires serious time and effort.”
The State Capitol Commission, a group made up of state lawmakers, officials and a few private citizens, has the first say on whether the bust of the Confederate general should be removed. It has oversight of the Capitol grounds, including furnishings, and can make a recommendation to the Tennessee Historical Commission, which would also have to sign off on moving the bust.
The commission met on Wednesday to discuss planning for a New Year’s Eve celebration, but it has been under pressure to make an announcement since a few Republican lawmakers, including the chair of the House GOP Caucus, East Tennessee Rep. Jeremy Faison, publicly said they want the bust removed.
Many Democrats have long asked the same. Rep. G. A. Hardaway (D-Memphis) is hopeful for the new meeting.
“You have started a new day,” Hardaway told McWhorter. “This is a new morning, a dawning in Tennessee.”
The meeting will not be the first time the commission has discussed the issue. In 2017, the group voted 7-5 against removal of the bust.
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The controversy surrounding the bust of Forrest — who was also the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan — has been going on for years. A recent poll by Vanderbilt University shows 76% of Tennesseans want the monument to be removed, and several groups have protested the monument constantly.
Chris Williamson, a black pastor at Strong Tower Bible Church, delivered a petition to the commission on Wednesday with 50,000 signatures from people all across the state who want the bust removed.
“When we think about what Nathan Bedford Forrest did to my ancestors as it pertains to how he tortured them, how he terrorized them, how he killed them, ” Williams said. “I think this is a good day for us to stand up and speak on behalf of our ancestors and say we can do better than this in Tennessee.”