Charlottesville violence fuels calls for removal of Forrest bust from state CapitolRead more
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NASHVILLE — Saturday's deadly violence at a white nationalist event in Charlottesville, Va., reignited demands Monday by lawmakers and protesters for the removal of a bust of Confederate general and early Ku Klux Klan leader Nathan Bedford Forrest from Tennessee's Capitol.
Holding a rally in front of the Forrest bust located between the state House and Senate chambers, demonstrators demanded action. The protest later moved outside Gov. Bill Haslam's offices.
"We can no longer stand by and let symbols like this to bring hurt in our state," said state Rep. Brenda Gilmore, D-Nashville, as she, three legislative colleagues and at least six dozen protesters stood before the Forrest bust.
Her comments followed a bloody weekend in Charlottesville, where one woman was killed and some 20 others injured after 20-year-old James Alex Fields Jr. allegedly drove his car into counter-protesters demonstrating against a white nationalist rally Saturday.
The white nationalists, assorted neo-Nazis and others had gathered to protest efforts to remove a nearly 100-year-old statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from city grounds.
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Here in Tennessee, Forrest's bust and place of prominence at the Capitol has long been a sore point among black lawmakers, including Gilmore, and in recent years among Democrats in general.
But efforts in 2014 and 2015 to remove the bust of Forrest, a former slave trader, celebrated military tactician and one-time KKK leader, resulted in the GOP-run General Assembly passing a 2016 law making it tougher to change historical statues and public displays.
It requires two-thirds approval of the Tennessee Historical Commission before such monuments are removed. Previously, it required a simple majority, and the effort to remove the Forrest statue collapsed after the bill became law.
Haslam, a Republican who previously supported the removal of Forrest's bust, was not at the Capitol on Monday. But the governor issued a statement saying, "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.
"The General Assembly has established a process for addressing these matters and I strongly encourage the Capitol Commission and the Historical Commission to act," Haslam added.
Earlier, Tennessee protesters called for the bust's removal. A number of them had been involved in "Moral Monday" events at the state Capitol earlier this year, opposing or supporting various policies.
Justin Jones, a 21-year-old Fisk University student and organizer of those events, charged that Haslam "refuses to call out white supremacy in his own state."
Christy Jo Harber, a Nashville minister, told the group she has "never known America, Tennessee or the city of Nashville without white supremacy" and that people have been told "it's OK to have statues and pictures of white men who fought to preserve slavery."
Regarded by some as a brilliant military strategist, Forrest's career as a pre-Civil War slave trader and postwar leader of the original Ku Klux Klan has long made the native Tennessean a controversial figure.
Meanwhile, Gilmore and others were critical of a bill passed by Tennessee lawmakers earlier this year. It boosted fines for people found guilty of blocking police cars or ambulances and was passed after Black Lives Matter protests, critics charged.
But Tennessee lawmakers this year rejected a bill by Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough, that sought to protect motorists from civil lawsuits if they hit protesters blocking traffic, provided that driver was exercising care and accidentally injured a protester.
It failed in a House committee.
Contact staff writer Andy Sher at email@example.com or 615-255-0550. Follow on Twitter @AndySher1.