Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN-09) urged Gov. Bill Lee to remove a bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest from the State Capitol and rename a state park that bears his name.
In a letter sent to Lee Monday, Cohen asked the Republican governor to “demonstrate leadership on an issue that causes so much pain in the Black community in Tennessee.”
Lee announced last week that he has called a meeting of the State Capitol Commission, the body responsible for historical displays in the Capitol, which will convene July 9.
“It’s my expectation that they will vote on whether to move the Nathan Bedford Forrest bust. I’ll make a specific proposal for what they’ll vote on next week, but I want to acknowledge the importance of the process that we have here in Tennessee,” Lee said during a July 1 press conference.
“The commission process that is set up by the Legislature protects the integrity of historical displays so that any changes are rooted in thoughtful, civic discourse. This process is the opposite of the mob rule that, unfortunately, has been dominating the national headlines around historical displays,” he added.
In his letter, Cohen told Lee that he “hopes this means you have taken the lead on the removal of the bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest.”
“As you may recall, I wrote to you on January 4, 2019 and February 22, 2019 urging you to remove the bust,” said Cohen. “I hope that you will also take the lead in renaming the Nathan Bedford Forest State Park in Eva, TN which is equally as distasteful and inappropriate.”
At Gov. Lee’s request, the Tennessee Senate passed a bill (already approved by the House) last month that will exempt Lee from having to declare July 13 Nathan Bedford Forrest Day, which has been a requirement of every governor since 1969. A bust of Forrest, a Confederate general and the first grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, was first placed in the State Capitol in 1978.
The State Capitol Commission considered the removal of the bust in February, but ultimately took no action, The Tennessee Star reported.
“I hope you will seize this moment and make the country look at Tennessee as a progressive and forward moving state,” Cohen concluded his letter.
– – –