U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander has joined demands to remove a bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest from the Tennessee State Capitol in Nashville, reports WKRN News 2.
The Tennessee Republican spoke to reporters Tuesday about the issue when he was in Nashville for an event.
Alexander said the Civil War can be remembered at museums, birthplaces and battlefields, but that “a place of honor” should be for Tennesseans “who inspire all of us,” such as Roots author Alex Haley, Senator Howard Baker or World War I hero Sgt. Alvin York.
The bust of Forrest was installed at the Capitol in the late 1970s. In 1980, when Alexander was Tennessee governor, he was against removing the bust. Acknowledging that he has changed his mind, Alexander said Tuesday that when he was governor he “thought it was more important to appoint the first African-American Supreme Court justice in Tennessee, which I did. More important to pass the Martin Luther King holiday, which I did. More important to (appoint) the first black chancellor in the state, which I did.”
Bill Haslam, the current Tennessee Republican governor, as well as activists, have called for the removal of the controversial bust.
A Tennessee native, Forrest was a slave trader and lieutenant general in the Confederate Army known for his brutality. Later in his life, after becoming a Christian, he renounced his past cruelty and promoted racial equality, according to some accounts.
The debate over the bust of Forrest is part of a larger push nationwide to take down statutes and memorials of Confederate historical figures as well as those honoring America’s founders.