About 60 activists condemning white supremacy gathered at the state Capitol today in opposition to the bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest housed there.
The demonstrations and violent actions by white nationalists in Charlottesville, Va., over the weekend began as a protest to the planned removal of a Robert E. Lee statue and turned deadly when, according to authorities, a 20-year-old Ohio man rammed his car into a crowd of counter protesters.
The violence again renewed attention on symbols of the Confederacy and the group Moral Movement Tennessee is turning its attention to the Forrest bust.
Forrest was a Confederate general and early leader of the Ku Klux Klan and his bust appears in the Capitol between the House and Senate chambers.
In a statement, Gov. Bill Haslam said Monday he does not believe Forrest should be someone honored at the Capitol.
“My position on this issue has not changed – I do not believe Nathan Bedford Forrest should be one of the individuals we honor at the Capitol," Haslam said. "The General Assembly has established a process for addressing these matters and I strongly encourage the Capitol Commission and the Historical Commission to act.”
Justin Jones, 21, a Nashville activist, said he would participate in efforts calling for the removal of the bust.
"We have to call it out in our own community and that's how we can show solidarity with Charlottesville," Jones said.
Recent efforts to remove the bust began in 2015, after then 21-year-old Dylann Roof shot and killed nine people at Emanuel A.M.E. Church, a historically prominent black church in Charleston, S.C., because they were black.
But then in February 2016, the state legislature passed the Tennessee Heritage Protection Act that sets forth the process for the renaming or removal controversial memorial or monument.
The process makes it more difficult to remove statues or rename streets dedicated to controversial figures, such as Forrest, from public property.
Sponsored by Rep. Steve McDaniel, R-Parkers Crossroads, the measure requires anyone interested in renaming, removing or relocating any statues, monuments and other memorials to receive a two-thirds majority vote from the Tennessee Historical Commission.
No Confederate flag flies outside the Tennessee statehouse, but the bust of Forrest — who was born in Middle Tennessee — sits in between the state House and Senate chambers. The bust sits around a corner from others showing the likenesses of former presidents Andrew Jackson and James K. Polk.
It's also roughly 15 paces away from a monument honoring the 14th and 15th amendments, which recognize black residents as citizens and gives them the right to vote, and a bust of Sampson W. Keeble, the first black state lawmaker in Tennessee.
In 2010, the bust was moved from one position outside of the House chambers to its current position, in order to make room for the Keeble monument, according the Associated Press.
At least four feet tall, the copper bust lists only Forrest's tenure as a general in the Confederate army. It does not note his former leadership of the KKK. He was not a founder of the organization, but was elected the first "Grand Wizard."
He later left and renounced the organization and advocated for "social and political advancement for blacks," according to a 2013 report in The Commercial Appeal.
Still, advocates have successfully petitioned to have Forrest monuments removed before. In 2013, Memphis gained national attention when it decided to change the name of what was then Nathan Bedford Forrest Park, along with two other parks with names associated with the Confederacy.
It wasn't immediately clear how long the Forrest bust has been in the statehouse. Inscriptions on either side of the bust list the years 1977 and 1988.
Reporters Adam Tamburin, Dave Boucher and Joel Ebert contributed to this report.
Reporter Jordan Buie can be reached at 615-726-5970 or by email at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @jordanbuie.