A Republican lawmaker in Tennessee is calling for the bust of a Confederate general and Ku Klux Klan grand wizard to be removed from the state Capitol.
State Rep. Jeremy Faison (R) said in an interview with The Tennessean, published Tuesday, that he believes the bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest should be moved to a museum and replaced with a statue honoring someone else.
“If we want to preserve history, then let’s tell it the right way,” Faison said. “Right now there are eight alcoves [in the Capitol]. Seven are filled with white men.”
The lawmaker made some suggestions for who could replace Forrest.
“How about getting a lady in there?” he said. “My daughter is 16, and I would love for her to come into the Capitol and see a lady up there. What’s wrong with Anne Dallas Dudley getting in that alcove?” (Dudley, originally from Nashville, was a prominent activist in the 19th-century suffragist movement.)
“What’s wrong with someone like Dolly Parton being put in that alcove?” Faison suggested, referring to the iconic singer from Locust Ridge. The lawmaker also said the state could erect a monument dedicated to the enslaved people who constructed the Capitol building.
Born in Tennessee, Forrest is known to history as a slave trader and the first grand wizard of the KKK. As a Confederate general, he led an attack in 1864 that has come to be known as the Fort Pillow Massacre. Three hundred Union soldiers, including 200 Black soldiers, are believed to have been killed, many as they were trying to surrender.
Activists and other Tennesseans have petitioned for years to remove two statues of Forrest, including the bust at the state Capitol. But many Republican politicians in the state, including Gov. Bill Lee, continue to defend Confederate monuments and Ku Klux Klan honors as “part of our history.”
Lee told The Tennessean last year that he believed it would be “a mistake to whitewash history” ― a way of framing the issue that Faison dismissed.
“I fundamentally reject any notion by someone saying that moving him [the Forrest bust] to the museum is trying to whitewash history,” Faison told The Tennessean.
He continued: “Hitler has earned his place in history, but they don’t put monuments of him in Germany anymore. There’s plenty of people who are notable characters. That doesn’t mean they deserve to be in a place of honor.”
Faison noted that he previously agreed with the governor but changed his mind after studying Forrest’s legacy at the suggestion of fellow state Rep. G.A. Hardaway (D), a Black lawmaker from Memphis.
Over the summer, Lee re-signed a proclamation declaring July 13 as Nathan Bedford Forrest Day in the state. The governor later said he would look into changing the law after facing criticism from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who spoke out against the proclamation in a tweet.
Lee’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Faison’s remarks.