The bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest – slave trader, Confederate general, and early leader of the Ku Klux Klan – located inside the Tennessee State Capitol building was installed in 1978. That same year Tennessee Governor Bill Lee was attending Auburn University, where he took part in parties dressed in a Confederate uniform.
Photographs of Lee in uniform recently surfaced after denying any existed. This prompted an apology, but it seems to me that the governor could go further in addressing his flirtation with the Lost Cause. Lee has stopped short of joining calls to remove the Forrest bust, instead advocating the placement of signs to add historical context.
This is entirely inadequate. There is no reason why this bust should remain in the hall outside the chamber where the people’s business is conducted. Black Tennesseans have protested the placement of this bust beginning on the day it was unveiled. Today few people will deny that the values Forrest represents are antithetical to the moral code that the vast majority of Americans aspire to embrace.
The same culture that made it acceptable for a young Bill Lee to dress up in a Confederate uniform is also responsible for the bust of Forrest.
It’s time for the governor to do what’s right and call for the removal of this symbol of white supremacy from the state capitol.