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Protesters around the world have been decapitating racist statues, covering them with graffiti, and tossing them in the harbor. But the bust of the Ku Klux Klan “Grand Wizard” will stay right in its place in the Tennessee state Capitol, after lawmakers thumbed their nose at the trend in an 11-5 committee vote this week.
A House resolution to remove the bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate Army general and the Klan’s first “Grand Wizard,” which was introduced earlier this year, failed in the Tuesday vote.
On the heels of international protests against police brutality, anti-racist activists around the world have taken aim at statues glorifying slave traders, colonialists, and Confederate generals. In some cases, they’ve taken matters into their own hands and toppled the monuments. Elsewhere, like in Virginia, state officials have ordered their removal.
Like many Confederate statues that have come down, the bust of Forrest was installed in the Tennessee Capitol well after the Civil War ended. In fact, it was installed in 1973, thanks to a Democratic state Sen. Douglas Henry, who was a member of the organization Sons of Confederate Veterans.
The idea of removing Forrest’s bust from the Capitol had been raised a couple years ago, when the violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, prompted the previous wave of Confederate statue removals across the country. It came up again late last year, when one GOP lawmaker who’d previously supported keeping Forrest’s bust in the Capitol had a change of heart. Rep. Jeremy Faison, whose grandfather was a Confederate colonel, said one of his Black colleagues in Memphis contacted him and showed him some of Forrest’s writings, which laid bare his white supremacist ideology.
“If we want to preserve history, then let's tell it the right way,” Faison said in December, according to the Nashville Tennessean. “Right now there are eight alcoves (in the Capitol). Seven are filled with white men."
Faison suggested that Forrest’s bust be removed and replaced with a statue of Dolly Parton.
Protesters gathered by the Capitol in Nashville on Wednesday after lawmakers voted against removing Forrest’s bust. "This is why black lives matter. This is why we can’t breathe," Venita Lewis, who organized the protest, told local news outlets. "It’s not just about a police officer with his foot on a man’s neck. It’s about every fiber of our lives. It needs to come down." Last weekend, some 2,000 protesters flooded Nashville to rally against police brutality.
But it’s not all bad. Tennessee lawmakers did pass a bill ending the century-long tradition of honoring Forrest once a year. Under current law, the governor of Tennessee is required to sign a proclamation declaring “Nathan Bedford Forrest Day.” The bill that passed will change that law.
Cover: A bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest is displayed in the Tennessee State Capitol Tuesday, June 9, 2020, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)