Tenn. lawmakers work to remove commission after members vote to take down KKK statue

The commission's vote came after pleas to boot Nathan Bedford Forrest's bust from the capitol building went up.

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Just weeks after its vote to move a bust of a Ku Klux Klan leader from the state capitol to the state museum, Republican lawmakers in Tennessee want members of a historical commission created to evaluate monuments and where they stand in the state to be replaced.

Twenty-four of the 29 members of the Tennessee Historical Commission are currently appointed by the governor. However, as a result of its March 8 decision that a bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest should be removed from the grounds of the state capitol in Nashville, Republican state Sen. Joey Hensley sponsored a bill to replace the entire commission with 12 new members selected by the governor, lieutenant governor and state speaker of the house.

As a result of their March 8 vote that this bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest should be removed from the grounds of the state capitol in Nashville, State Sen. Joey Hensley sponsored a bill to replace the entire commission with 12 new members. (WTVF)

Other Republican state leaders, however, disagree. 

One, Sen. Mike Bell, argued that it is “improper” to change the rules when the commission makes a ruling that some lawmakers disagree with. 

“That’s the process that we created for removing a monument,” Bell contended. “Every time we get a decision about a monument or a statue that we don’t like, then we want to come back and change it again? If we want to put it in our hands, then let’s just do a bill to do away with it completely and let the legislature vote on it.”

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Republican Sen. Janice Bowling agrees with Hensley’s bill, citing a new GOP grievance: Cancel culture. 

“In our culture today,” she said, “it seems there is a desire to cancel history, cancel culture, cancel narratives that are just based on fact. I think that that’s a dangerous precedent.” 

Bedford Forrest was a slave trader, Confederate war general and one of the founding leaders of the Ku Klux Klan. 

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Calls to remove his bust from the Tennessee State Capitol accelerated last summer during the many protests for Black Lives Matter. It was then that the commission to study what to do with the statue was formed, its decision made after members heard several hours of testimony during a six-hour meeting. 

The commission’s 25-1 vote to move the bust March 8 was praised by members of the state’s House Democratic Caucus.

“This decision has been a long time coming. For far too long, both lawmakers and visitors to the Capitol have had to endure walking past a bust honoring a disgraced Confederate soldier and a former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan,” caucus chairman Rep. Vincent Dixie said afterward. “That statue represents one of the most shameful parts of both American and Tennessee history, and it was personally embarrassing to have to see it every time I walk into the House chamber.”

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