Here’s What To Expect In This Week’s Vote To Remove A Confederate Bust From The Tennessee Capitol

Jul 8, 2020

Nathan Bedford Forrest's bust at the Tennessee Capitol has drawn criticism.
Credit Sergio Martinez-Beltran | WPLN

For the first time, Tennessee’s State Capitol Commission is likely to vote for the removal of the bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest. The monument to the Confederate general and early Ku Klux Klan grand wizard has been inside the building since 1978.

Gov. Bill Lee is scheduled to address the panel Thursday. It’s unclear if Lee will openly say whether he supports the removal of the Forrest bust.

Last week, he told reporters he wanted to follow the process laid out in state law when removing a monument.

“This process is the opposite of the mob rule that unfortunately has been dominating national headlines around historical displays,” Lee said. “I have confidence that our process here in Tennessee with the Capitol Commission will be fair and representative of Tennesseans.”

That said, Lee has been doing some behind-the-scenes work to set up a vote.

He recently appointed two Black men to the 12-member panel. And, he reappointed Davidson County Criminal Court Clerk Howard Gentry.

In 2017, Gentry, who is Black, voted to take the monument out of the capitol.

But back then, there weren’t enough votes for that petition to win — in part because Secretary of State Tre Hargett, Comptroller Justin Wilson and Treasurer David Lillard all voted against removal.

The three of them are appointed by the legislature, and this time, they are expected to vote the same way.

But three commissioners appointed by Lee — Finance Commissioner Butch Eley, General Services Commissioner Christi Branscom and Environment and Conservation Commissioner David Salyers — and the private citizens Lee appointed are expected to vote for the removal.

Lee hasn’t signed bill passed by legislature

Before adjourning for the year, the state General Assembly passed a measure that would add the chief clerks of the Senate and the House to the membership of the State Capitol Commission. These positions appointed by the speakers of each chamber.

That measure is on Lee’s desk, but it’s unclear if he will sign it before Thursday’s meeting. And if he does, it won’t give the legislative leaders enough time to make their appointments official.

Either way, Thursday’s vote won’t end the bust controversy. If the petition to remove the bust is supported, it will then go to the Tennessee Historical Commission for review, ultimately deciding its fate.