NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL) — The unusual day began with an in-person appeal from Gov. Bill Lee who made the proposal before the Tennessee Capitol Commission.
“I think we have an opportunity to make decisions here today that will impact not only people’s lives, but our state,” said Lee who was the first speaker.
That’s what the Tennessee Capitol Commission did, but not without the last-minute motion proposed by Tennessee State Comptroller Justin Wilson.
“And the real reason for this motion is to celebrate the fabulous military history of the state of Tennessee,” said Wilson, who is one of the commission’s long-time members.
What the comptroller proposed and the commission agreed to was to send the Tennessee Capitol busts of Admiral David Farragut of “Damn the torpedoes fame” and Nashville native Admiral Albert Gleaves to the state museum along with the controversial bust of Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest.
But it was word of relocating the bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest — revered as a Civil War tactician but reviled as a slave trader — that brought cheers from a band of Capitol Hill protesters outside the Capitol Commission meeting.
“I believe that we will win, I believe that we will,” were just some of their chants.
The group seemed not to mind a couple of other capitol busts in the deal so far before it goes to the Tennessee Historical Commission.
State lawmakers who fought long to remove the Confederate general’s bust were more lukewarm
“The work that was done today was not perfect,” said Memphis Rep. G.A. Hardaway. “Any wording that addresses Nathan Bedford Forrest as a hero is seriously out of line.”
The Tennessee Historical Commission could once again change the proposal about the capitol busts, but what it decides by law is the final word.
Thursday’s first step on the Confederate general’s bust brought out strong emotions on both sides of the issue.
“Sometimes you have to give a little something to get what you want,” said Metro Criminal Court Clerk Howard Gentry who is also a long time Capitol Commission member.
Gentry said it was important for him to be there after just recovering from COVID-19.
“My thing is I want the Forrest bust in a museum and I have no problems making concessions to get that done as long as it doesn’t keep it from getting done,” added Gentry.
Senator Brenda Gilmore and Representative Harold Love both made emotional appeals before the commission about relocating the Forrest bust, but they know there’s more work for the their cause before the Tennessee Historical Commission.
“We do we do. We’ll start working on that today,” added Senator Gilmore.
“We now have some movement,” added Rep. Love. “We have been trying for so long in the bills we brought. The resolutions that we have proposed, conversations we have had and we must give so much credit to the young protesters out there.”
But worries remain for others like Rutherford County Republican lawmaker Mike Sparks.
While addressing the commission he was also turning to Governor Lee during the longest statement of the day.
Rep. Sparks wondered “what statues are next?”
Earlier in a defense of Forrest, the Rutherford County lawmaker said the Confederate general “had a lot of African-Americans at his funeral.”
State Senator Joey Hensley told his story before the commission of having three ancestors “fighting for their homeland” as Confederate soldiers.
The Republican lawmaker added that relocating the Forrest bust from the capitol “won’t solve our problems.”
The two lawmakers were also joined in their defense of the Forrest bust by the attorney for Sons of Confederate Veterans/Tennessee Division.
Doug Jones, in a video conference call, reminded the commission that it was his group’s donations that helped put the bust on the capitol’s second floor in 1978.
Removing it would be “erasing history.”