Veterans join call for Nathan Bedford Forrest bust to be removed from state Capitol

A veterans group has joined the call to remove the bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest from the state Capitol and place it in a museum.

Members of Veterans for Peace Chapter 089 delivered a petition of more than 500 signatures to legislative leaders and the governor on Tuesday, asking that the bust of the Confederate general and first Ku Klux Klan grand wizard be removed.

The veterans’ petition is the latest action in a public outcry against the bust, which has been on display at the Capitol since 1978. Earlier this month, a group of mostly college students rallied at the Capitol and delivered a letter to newly elected Gov. Bill Lee that requested the bust’s removal.

Forrest, who was a slave trader before the Civil War and eventually became the first leader of the KKK, is probably best known for his heinous act at the Battle of Fort Pillow in April of 1864.

He ordered the slaughter of hundreds of surrendered Union soldiers, most of whom were black, in what became known as one of the most infamous events of the Civil War.

“This was a war crime,” said Joey King, president of the Veterans for Peace local chapter. “We understand that Forrest is a historic figure in Tennessee history, but he is not one to be proud of. As veterans who served this country under the flag that flies on top of this building (Capitol), we find it insulting to honor a man in the state Capitol who did his best to overthrow that flag.”

King recommends the “bust be moved to a museum with an appropriate description of his activities so that people can study the history and determine the historical significance of Forrest.”

The Tennessee State Museum, which opened in October, has been suggested as a place for the bust.

Former Gov. Bill Haslam tried unsuccessfully to remove the bust two years ago. To remove monuments like the bust of Forrest takes several steps of approval required by the Tennessee Heritage Protection Act. Haslam’s efforts failed at the first step.

And it doesn’t look like the new governor has any desire to remove the bust of Forrest. As a candidate, Lee said he opposed the removal, explaining that he believes it would be “a mistake to whitewash history.”

But the Veterans for Peace, as well as many other individuals, do not agree with his interpretation.

“He (Forrest) does not deserve a place of honor in the Capitol, which represents all Tennesseans,” King said. “The Forrest bust is an embarrassment to the state, and is viewed as a symbol of white supremacy, a flashpoint for division.”

Veterans for Peace have 130 chapters across the United States, as well as in Mexico, Okinawa, the United Kingdom, and Vietnam. It has more than 5,000 members.


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