State Capitol Commission Votes to Move Nathan Bedford Forrest Bust from Capitol After In-Person Request by Gov. Lee


After Governor Bill Lee weighed in on the State Capitol Commission (SCC) vote regarding the removal of the Nathan Bedford Forrest bust from the second floor of the State Capitol, by a 9 to 2 vote the body complied with his request.

The original motion of removing just the bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest was amended to include the monuments to two of Tennessee’s other military heroes, Admirals David Farragut and Albert Gleaves.

Lee issued remarks the day before the SCC meeting, The Tennessee Star reported, saying that the meeting has been more than a year in the making as appointments have been made to the SCC.

State Representative Mike Sparks (R-Smyrna) addressing his comments on issue of the Nathan Bedford Forrest bust mainly to Governor Bill Lee and fellow legislators including (from left to right) Senator Brenda Gilmore (D-Nashville), Representative G. A. Hardaway (D-Memphis), Representative Mike Stewart (D-Nashville) and Representative Harold Love, Jr. (D-Nashville).

It appears that he also rushed to hold the meeting before signing a bill that would have added two private citizen members to the SCC selected by the Speaker of the Senate and the Speaker of the House.

Lee then attended the Thursday meeting, making opening remarks and staying for a good portion of the three-hour meeting that he reportedly called.

Of the 12-member SCC, there is currently one vacancy from the State’s Historical Commission.

More than half of the remainder of the SCC’s membership are Lee’s appointees, either by virtue of their position in his cabinet, or the three citizens representing each of the state’s grand divisions.

The other members include the state’s three Constitutional officers, which are elected by the General Assembly, and two members of the General Assembly representing each of the two chambers.

Once Lee finished his opening remarks, members of the General Assembly who had asked to speak also made comments.

Legislators who spoke in favor of moving the bust were Senator Brenda Gilmore (D-Nashville), Representatives Harold Love, Jr. (D-Nashville), Mike Stewart (D-Nashville) and G. A. Hardaway (D-Memphis).

Gilmore gave an emotional plea, causing her to pause about midway through her remarks when she said that tears come to her eyes every time she gets off the elevator and looks at the Forrest bust.

She questioned why some people do not see Black people as humans and said that, while there is a tremendous amount of work to be done, removing the Forrest bust will make one small step to correct a mistake made in 1978, which was actually the result of Democrat Senator Doug Henry’s 1973 resolution.

Comparing the removal of the bust to the doom and gloom predictions associated with women’s suffrage, Love said, “I promise you, the world will not end, mountains will not fall into the sea, and the rivers will not dry up.”

As a veteran, Stewart said the military record of Nathan Bedford Forrest had to be looked at.  Forrest’s alleged actions at Fort Pillow, he said, would disqualify him from a place of honor.

Asking the Commission to do the right thing, Hardaway in his nearly 15 minutes of commentary referenced the protesters outside the meeting room, who could be heard shouting through the closed doors of the meeting room, demanded to have a seat at the table that was not set for them.

The agenda, however, failed to mention a physical location for the meeting, providing only a link to a WebEx livestream.

SCC Chairman Butch Eley later said the restrictions on attendees in the room was because of the ongoing COVID-19 situation.

Hardaway asked for consideration as to how disrespectful and insensitive it is for all of the African-American legislators to endure walking past the statue every day when they go to make law for the six million Tennesseans without regard for their gender, race, creed or color.

Senator Joey Hensley (R-Hohenwald) is a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and talked about the suffering and terrible times during and after the Civil War, having three great grandfathers who served in the Confederacy.

He refuted the then-fake news about the battle known as the Fort Pillow massacre of 200 mostly Black Union soldiers that had surrendered. “That’s just not true.  It was a terrible battle, but they had not surrendered,” he said.

Hensley expressed that Tennessee should be a leader by keeping the bust in its location and showing that historical figures should be judged in the context of the times.

Representative Mike Sparks (R-Smyrna) largely addressed his comments to Lee and his fellow members of the General Assembly, drawing them into his weaving but interrelated thoughts.

He briefly touched on an incident where Forrest was called upon to defend the husbands, brothers and sons of crying women he encountered.  The men were being held in a courthouse, which sits near Sparks’ district, going to be executed by Union forces.  Forrest, at the time was riding with dozens of Black troops, which Sparks called remarkable.

In attending a protest at Middle Tennessee State University, Sparks said he asked the students four questions.  As he again asked the questions during the meeting, with almost no one knowing the answers he gave to his own questions.

Who was Samson Keeble?  Besides having a bust on the second floor of the State Capitol, Sparks schooled that Keeble was a Confederate soldier who was a Republican who became the first African-American state representative.

To the question of who is John Newton, Sparks got no response and advised that he was a slave ship captain who wrote the hymn Amazing Grace as a story of redemption.

Continuing on the theme, Sparks said that the governor and secretary of state know that William Wilberforce freed the slaves in Great Britain, suffering persecution for it.

And, as to the question of who had the most African Americans at their funeral, Sparks said that Nathan Bedford Forrest had 3,000 to 5,000 in attendance.

Sparks talked about the 1875 Independent Order of Pole-Bearers Association event in Memphis with thousands of African Americans in attendance to which Forrest was asked to speak, “with some jeers of white folks who think I’m doing wrong.”

After reading further from Forrest’s speech published in the July 6, 1875 edition of The Memphis Daily Appeal, Sparks concluded, “That’s history folks.”

He talked about the oppression that is going on in the state right now, turning around to ask Democrat legislators directly if they knew that payday loans unfairly target minorities especially single females at a rate five times higher than any other group.

Once the legislators concluded their comments after about an hour, comments from eight citizens primarily through via video conferencing were limited to three minutes each.

Eley, who is also Lee’s appointee as the Commissioner of Finance & Administration, made the formal motion for a petition for a waiver to the Tennessee Historic Commission (THC) allowing the Nathan Bedford Forrest bust to be moved from the State Capitol to the Tennessee State Museum.

Eley said that Lee’s remarks from the prior day would be included to substantiate the compelling interest for the moving of the bust.

Fellow State Commissioners Branscom and Salyers, after making comments on their reasoning, both said they would be voting in favor of the motion.

Citizen-member of the Commission from East Tennessee, Hallerin Hill said Forrest’s Pole-Bearers speech reflected redemption, which is turning away from something toward something else.  Hill saw that as a move to a new position, and that a bust could change positions to tell the whole story.

Hill concluded that he would support the governor to move the bust.

Senator Jack Johnson, as the Senate representative, said that he polled his fellow Senate members and received 19 votes to not remove and 14 votes to remove the bust.  He said that was a similar vote to about three years ago, when he was also a member of the SCC

While not compelled to vote according to their wishes, Johnson said he felt it was important to have the conversation and would be voting accordingly.

It was at that point, which was approximately two hours into the meeting, that Eley announced a 15-minute recess.

Upon return from the recess, SCC citizen member from West Tennessee, Dr. Logan Hampton, made the point that the Commission’s action or vote will have no impact on the history of the individual they debate.

He told the story of the surrender at Appomattox and the tip of the hats between General Grant and General Lee in honor of each other, expressing hope that “we tip our hats to one another, to live out our true southern heritage and hospitality.”

While Representative Matthew Hill (R-Jonesborough), said he had no additional comments, but as Johnson indicated before the recess, he would be voting to represent the House.

Comptroller of the Treasury Justin Wilson proposed an amendment to the original motion that would add the statues of Admirals Farragut and Gleaves also be moved from the second floor of the State Capitol to the state museum to be part of an honoring of Tennessee’s military heroes and that the alcoves vacated would be used to commemorate federal or state elected officials or events that have occurred on the second floor, as determined by the Tennessee General Assembly.

Wilson went on to explain that the bust was placed on the second floor of the Capitol as part of a 1973 resolution to recognize General Forrest clearly and unambiguously for his military achievements, and passed unanimously by both houses.

“But a portion of our population has come to view this statue as something very different,” Wilson continued.

As a very practical matter, Wilson said, “the original focus and intent cannot be appreciated today.”

Wilson elaborated on the reasons for his amendment and his thoughts on the Capitol’s second floor honoring.

He then set the record straight about the 1973 resolution for the Forrest bust, saying that for those that said it was designed for white supremacy are misinformed.

Discussion ensued on the amendment, including concerns expressed by citizen member from middle Tennessee, Howard Gentry that adding two busts to be moved would delay the move of the Forrest bust, making it clear he was there to vote on the removal of the Forrest bust.

Executive Director of the Tennessee State Museum Ashley Howell came forward to confirm that they are prepared to take all three busts as long as the time frame is open and they can properly plan for it and include the appropriate scholars as part of the process.

When Gentry expressed further concern that the THC has the ability to sever the additional two busts in order to preserve the moving of the Forrest bust, Commission Counsel Christi Allen was called upon for an opinion.

Allen advised that, though she had not been through the process with the THC  before, a single petition for a waiver would be prepared and filed with supporting documents and no sooner than 60 days later the THC would hold a de novo hearing on it.  Her assumption is that the THC would then take whatever action they deem appropriate, regardless of what the SCC proposes.

Wilson’s amendment to the main motion passed with 8 yes votes, 1 no vote and 2 abstentions.

Before voting on the amended motion, closing remarks were made by Secretary of State Tre Hargett as well as Gentry.

The vote for the amended motion for moving the statues of General Nathan Bedford Forrest and Admirals David Farragut and Albert Gleaves passed with 9 yes votes and 2 no votes from the legislative members Johnson and  Hill.

For those concerned about the erasure of history and the proverbial slippery slope of the removal of the bust may start, Memphis Congressman Steve Cohen already urged the removal of the bust and the renaming of the Nathan Bedford Forrest Park before the meeting of the SCC.

The THC  is responsible for considering and voting on petitions for waiver under the Tennessee Heritage Protection Act.

Of the 29-member THC, 24 members are appointed by the governor and five ex officio members include the governor himself, the state historian, the state archaeologist, the commissioner of environment and conservation, and the state librarian and archivist.  It takes a two-thirds majority vote by roll call to grant the waiver.

The Commission usually meets in February, June, and October.

After the meeting’s conclusion, Sparks told The Star that he thought it was a good meeting and discussion.

He voted against moving the bust in House committee meetings and recognized that people are going to be disappointed with the outcome.

Sparks was very positive, however, about the ability to tell the full story of Forrest, including his advocacy for Black Americans and the attendance of Black Americans at his funeral.  “Let’s tell Forrest’s story.”

He also wants the story of Sampson Keeble to be told, as the Confederate soldier who, as a Republican, was the first African-American state representative.

Reflecting on the outcome of the meeting, various incidents that occurred when he has tried to tell the story of Nathan Bedford Forrest, as well as the removal of State Representative John J. DeBerry, Jr. from the ballot by white elitists, Sparks reassured, “God’s got this.”

– – –

Laura Baigert is a senior reporter at The Tennessee Star.







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21 Thoughts to “State Capitol Commission Votes to Move Nathan Bedford Forrest Bust from Capitol After In-Person Request by Gov. Lee”

  1. David S.Blackwell RN, BSN

    Going down as the worst governor in Tennessee history. I will not vote for him again nor to business with Lee Company.

  2. 83ragtop50

    I would say that Bill Lee is a joke but there is nothing amusing (or endearing) about him leaning so far left that he may break.

    One term will be way too much of Mr. Lee.

    As for senatorial candidates. Mr. Hagerty’s legacy of working for RINO’s and globalists is all I need to know. He sounds like a continuation of Alexander. A disaster for Tennessee and America. I like President Trump’s actions but his endorsement of Hagerty is not swaying me one bit.

    Sethi may not be a great choice but I will take my chances with him over a proven loser in Hagerry.

  3. Boyd

    Perhaps the good Governor could consider a bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest III, Who was shot down over Europe during WWII as a pilot of a USAAF bomber. The Grandson and last direct descendant of Gen. Forrest.

  4. John

    Gov Lee needs to return the gift of this slave owner back to the people who gave it….the Democrat party, televising the whole thing, outing who the real racists have always been.

    When are we gonna start pushing back instead of waffling?

  5. Russ Crouch

    Moving the bust of Forrest MAY be justified, many will say no, but maybe. The other 2 they are moving MAKES NO SENSE, just bending to the crown, that makes no sense

  6. Ron Welch

    Well, Gov Lee, I suppose the “peacably assembled” demonstrators will be appeased and will leave the Capitol just as they found it, you think?

    “Don’t sell it as socialism; sell it as progressivism, economic democracy and social justice.”
    –Saul Alinsky

    “The goal of socialism is communism.” –Leinin

    “We make war against all prevailing ideas of religion, of the state, of country, of patriotism. The idea of God is the keynote of a perverted civilization. It must be destroyed.” –Karl Marx

    I see that even in the hotbed of “social justice”mayhem, Seattle, the statue of Vladmir Lenin still stands.

  7. Beatrice Shaw

    That Hill man does not need to be in Congress!! He was SILENT during the racist removal hearing yesterday!!

    1. Stuart I. Anderson

      Now conservatives you know how great the Hill brothers are when MATTHEW (ACU-89%) is able to irritate a flaming liberal like Beatrice simply by remaining silent. This is a wonderful reminder that his brother, TIMOTHY (ACU-88%) is running for Congress (Dist. 1) in the most important race for conservatives in TN in 2020 because this gives us a chance to replace the forgettable retiring Phil Roe (Heritage-69%) with a proven solid conservative. Please help Timothy if you can P. O. Box 3071, Blountville, TN 37617.

    2. Jim

      Beatrice, pay attention to the facts. Mathew Hill is NOT running for Congress. It’s his brother Timothy.

  8. Michael Cherry

    I voted for Bill Lee, one reason was his position on this type of issue, and our history and should not be tampered with, this was one reason he got my vote along with many other people. My family sees this move as another sell-out from Bill Lee. I can not take my vote back but I will work to single term Bill Lee.

    1. Boyd

      Yes, Bill Lee has surrendered to the Cancel Culture.

  9. rick

    We are paying all of these people to make important decisions like this. Morons, what BS! Useless politicians all of them.

  10. Stuart I. Anderson

    Well fellow conservatives, many of you were caught up in the Chris Devaney fairy tales about No Record Candidate Bill Lee, implying that he would be a fine conservative governor. Now two years later once again you see that Gov. Lee is indistinguishable from Gov. Haslam and we’re probably stuck for six more long years.

    In one week again you will be asked to pass judgement on another Chris Devaney fairy tale that you have been treated to over these past few weeks to the effect that Chairman Manny is some sort of rip snorting conservative zealot, never mind the fact that he has done absolutely nothing to help the conservative movement in his entire life. Please don’t be fooled again because Chris Devaney is very good at his job. Vote AGAINST Chairman Manny by voting FOR Bill Hagerty.

    1. Ron Welch

      Stuart, could you list Hagerty’s conservative credentials. I see that he has worked in the administrations of George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush, Bill Haslam and on the campaigns of Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush, none of which were or are “rip snorting conservative zealots”. Tell me about his record of conservative voting. I know you cite that as an important credential in assessing conservatism, but I’m not aware that he has any either.

      So far, as I look at endorsements, Manny Sethi has several excellent conservatives, such as Sen Rand Paul, former Congressman Ed Bryant, John Duncan, Zachary Wamp, and State Rep, Joe Carr and State Sen. Mae Beavers. I am a member of Tennessee Firearms Assoc, a very strong Constitutional Conservative organization as well as the RKBA for our security, not hunting. At its last annual fundraising meeting, I met and talked with Manny Sethi and he spoke to the group, but Bill Hagerty was a no show. If Hagerty wins the primary, I will certainly vote for him in the general election, but so far, I have seen little or no conservative credentials apart from campaign ads. From the information I have, Manny Sethi will get my vote.

      I do agree about Bill Lee. I supported Mae Beavers for Gov and then voted for Diane Black in the primary.

      1. Stuart I. Anderson

        Ron, neither major candidate running for Senate has a record that shows the least bit of interest in or devotion to the conservative movement. Simply put, as conservatives we don’t have a candidate to vote for, that’s the movement’s fault, not the candidates.

        As a conservative I approach this election wanting to do what I can to help the movement. Every campaign has a theme. Hagety’s theme is “despite my well documented background as a centrist/tepid conservative I am endorsed by Trump – vote for me.” Chairman Manny’s theme is “I am the Unhagerty!!!! Despite my anemic political record capped off by my Chairmanship of the Republican Establishment Statesmen’s Dinner in 2016 I am this table-pounding conservative zealot so come on conservatives vote for me.”

        What makes Dr. “CONSERVATIVE-OUTSIDER” so harmful to the conservative movement is the fact that he, like so many other plutocrats, think they spend their time ingratiating themselves with the centrist/tepid conservative Republican Establishment, sit on their wallet when conservative candidates come calling, then hire Chris Devaney to make them a Rambo conservative when they run for office. Ron, if we let them get away with this stuff election after election, why should we ever expect conservative candidates to get the funding they need to win? Help the conservative movement. Let’s show the Chairman Manny’s of the world that they can’t get away with this nonsense by voting for Hagerty.

        1. Ron Welch

          Stuart, thanks gorgeous your reply, but I’m still wondering what Hagerty’s conservative credentials are, except for what I hear in his ads. You keep mentioning Chris Devaney and I suppose Manny Sethi “ingratiating himself” with a centrist/tepid conservative”, but then you have Hagerty doing the same with the same with the three Bush’s, Haslam and Mitt Romney, all “tepid/centrist establishment Republicans”. Manny Sethi is getting mulitiple endorsements from former Constitutional conservative office holders. I have also had the opportunity to talk directly with Manny Sethi. Too bad Hagerty didn’t show up at the Constitutionalist conservativeTennessee Firearms Assoc meeting where I could meet him. Besides, I’ve seen quite a few candidates on TV ads walking with a hunting shotgun over their shoulder, but not support the wording of the 2nd Amendment and the rest of the Bill of Rights.

          1. Ron Welch


            Stuart, thanks FOR your reply… this spellcheck makes up words! I must have hit g instead of f and didn’t proofread…lol

          2. Stuart I. Anderson

            No question, for conservatives this Senate race is a very tough and disheartening one. I believe Job One for conservatives is to make the Republican Party more conservative by nominating conservatives in Republican Primaries. We simply will never be able to do that until the Manny Sethis of the world don’t dare run for high office without a record that indicates long and significant financial support for the conservative movement and/or conservative candidates because without such a record we conservatives simply will not consider giving them our vote.

            Conservatives move toward accomplishing Job One in this race by depriving Chairman Manny of our vote. Voting for Hagerty is simply a means to that end since there is no way to directly vote against Manny. As you can see, this analysis has nothing to do with the conservatism of Hagerty because frankly, I will be tickled if we can get over a Heritage 75% score out of him. Chairman Manny is more personable than Hagerty but again, that doesn’t matter either. Hagerty is running simply as a Trump endorsee nothing more, nothing less. It is Chairman Manny who is running as a table pounding conservative that he obviously isn’t, thus for conservatives it is this subterfuge that warrants our disgust.

            If we were talking about a Democratic Party Primary in a state where the Democrats were dominant so that the winner of the primary wins the election I assure you if someone with the lack of liberal credentials like Chairman Manny lacks conservative credentials showed up running for the nomination to high office the liberals wouldn’t give him a second thought and be outraged at his pretending to be the liberal zealot he obviously isn’t. Liberals are serious about this stuff. That’s how they got control of the Democratic Party. Conservatives should be serious too if we ever want to get control of the Republican Party.

    2. JB Taylor

      Met Dr Manny, was planning to vote for him, Also Met Mr. Haggerty, was unimpressed, but your last sentence intrigued me. can you provides sources of more information? Do not want another Bill Lee in office.

      1. Stuart I. Anderson

        Sorry JB, if you are referring to my post I am not certain exactly what you are asking.

    3. Boyd

      Sure! Vote for the man endorsed by the US Chamber of Commerce and the Great RINO himself, Lamar Alexander! Flood the country with foreign students and employees at slave wages. Why would an American child even consider going to college? I`ll give Dr. Manny Sethi a chance.