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Bust of Klan Leader Removed From Tennessee State Capitol

After years of protests, the bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest, the slave trader, Confederate general and early Ku Klux Klan leader, was removed from the State Capitol in Nashville on Friday and sent to the Tennessee State Museum, state officials said.

The operation also included the removal of the busts of Adm. David Farragut, the first leader of the U.S. Navy, who served in the Union Army during the Civil War, and another Tennessean, Adm. Albert Gleaves, a commander in World War I and naval historian.

The move came after the Tennessee State Building Commission, including Gov. Bill Lee, a Republican, voted 5-2 on Thursday in favor of relocating all three busts. The removal of the two admirals was intended to avoid singling out the Confederate general.

“This process has finally come to a close,” Governor Lee said in a statement, after a year of working for the removal.

Before the Civil War, Forrest owned, bought and sold slaves in Memphis. As a general, he led a notoriously gruesome massacre of surrendered Black and white Union troops at Fort Pillow in 1864. And after the South was defeated, he became the original grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. Later in life, his defenders say, he gave a speech in favor of racial reconciliation.

In the Capitol, his bust had rested opposite Admiral Farragut’s. “In tandem, these two men represent the push and pull of our state’s history and the conflict that forged so much of our identity and our role in striving for a ‘more perfect Union,’” Mr. Lee said in a statement last year, when he started the effort at the removal.

The governor said last year that Forrest “is as much a part of our past as David Farragut, the first leader of the United States Navy.”

Gov. Lee added on Thursday, “The State Museum provides the full historical context for these figures, as we remember our state’s rich and complex past.”

The move on Friday followed the relocation of the remains of Forrest and his wife last month from a Memphis park to a Confederate museum 200 miles away. The couple had been buried under a marble base at the park since 1905.

Preparation to move the three busts began Thursday afternoon on the second floor of the Tennessee State Capitol and was completed on Friday, according to Ashley Howell, executive director of the Tennessee State Museum.

The busts, estimated to weigh up to 3,000 pounds each, will be on display at the museum beginning July 27.

“Museums preserve historical objects to provide connections to the past and offer public spaces for reflection,” Ms. Howell said in a statement.

Joining the governor in voting for Forrest’s ejection from the seat of Tennessee government were Tre Hargett, the secretary of state, Jason Mumpower, the state comptroller, David Lillard, the state treasurer, and Butch Eley, finance and administration commissioner. The two state officials on the commission who voted against the removal were Lt. Gov. Randy McNally and House Speaker Cameron Sexton.

In a statement, Speaker Sexton said, “Trying to judge past generations’ actions based on today’s values and the evolution of societies is not an exercise I am willing to do, because I think it is counterproductive.”

He added, “It is much more productive to learn from our past and not repeat the imperfections of the past.”

Mr. McNally said in a statement, “I believe that context is needed, but not removal.”

“No one is arguing that Forrest is not a problematic figure,” he continued. “He is. But there is more to his story.”

He added, “The woke mob means ultimately to uproot and discard not just Southern symbols, but American heroes and history as well.”

Activists who had spent years seeking the removal of the Forrest bust attended Thursday’s vote, where they applauded the decision.

“This statue is a reminder that we still have work to do,” one of them, Justin Jones, told WTVF-TV on Thursday, before standing in front of the bust and saying, “time to go.”


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