Tennessee Republicans block removal of racist statue from state Capitol

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On the day George Floyd was laid to rest, Tennessee Republicans refused to remove a statue honoring the first grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.

As Americans join marches and protests across the nation to demand an end to institutional racism, Republicans in the Tennessee state General Assembly voted on Tuesday against removing a statue of a founder of the Ku Klux Klan from its place of honor in the state's Capitol building.

A bill calling for the removal of the bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest was defeated by an 11-5 vote in the state House Naming, Designating, and Private Acts Committee. All 11 votes against removing the bust came from Republicans. One Republican joined four Democrats voting in favor of removing it.

The bill, introduced by Democratic Rep. Rick Staples, suggested replacing the statue with one of either William F. Yardley, the first African American to run for Tennessee governor, or Anne M. Davis, the third woman elected to the Tennessee House of Representatives.

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The committee also voted in favor of an amendment to the Tennessee Code to maintain July 13 as Nathan Bedford Forrest Day, but removed the requirement that the governor must issue a proclamation of the holiday.

Forrest, a Tennessee native, plantation owner, and slave trader, served as a Confederate general during the Civil War. He was reported to have had his soldiers kill Union troops, many of them former slaves, after they had surrendered.

After the war, he was associated with the Ku Klux Klan and was believed to have acted as the terrorist organization's first grand wizard, although he denied this when called to testify before a congressional committee.

The bust of Forrest was placed in the Tennessee State Capitol building in 1978, more than 100 years after Forrest died.

"Every day black legislators walk by and are reminded of the atrocities committed during the slave trade and feel the inherent threat behind" the placement of the statue, Mary Mancini, chair of the Tennessee Democratic Party, said in an email on Wednesday. "The bust has no home in any place of honor in Tennessee, let alone in a place of honor" in the state Capitol.

Mancini said that her party "will continue to join our allies and with the work of dismantling racism and white supremacy, including the removal of these monuments to white supremacy."

The Tennessee Republican Party did not respond to a request for comment.

The vote to keep the bust in place was held on the day of the funeral of George Floyd, a black man who died after a white police officer knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes. Floyd's death sparked ongoing protests demanding an end to racist police violence and systemic racism.

In response to protests, leaders in other parts of the Deep South and in other states have removed statues honoring racist figures from America's past.

Last week, the city of Mobile, Alabama, removed a statue of Confederate Admiral Raphael Semmes erected in 1900, with Republican Mayor Sandy Stimpson saying he was "removing a potential distraction so we may focus clearly on the future of our city."

On June 1, Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin ordered the removal of a monument honoring Confederate soldiers and sailors erected in 1905. Woodfin gave the order on Jefferson Davis Day, an official Alabama state holiday honoring the president of the Confederacy.

Statues of racist leaders were also removed in Virginia and Pennsylvania.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.