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State Capitol Commission votes to move Nathan Bedford Forrest bust to state museum

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Gov. Bill Lee (copy)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee

The Tennessee State Capitol Commission approved a waiver Thursday morning to move a Nathan Bedford Forrest bust from the second floor of the Tennessee State Capitol building to the Tennessee State Museum.

After Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee expressed his opinion over the last couple of weeks that the bust should be moved to the museum and scheduled the meeting for Thursday, the commission voted 9-2 in favor of its relocation.

"I have made decisions in my life, particularly in the last year and a half in the role that I have been in as governor, that I believe were in the best interest of every person in the state of Tennessee," Lee said before the commission on Thursday. "That's how I have approached this subject. I've also approached it with a great deal of prayer with the desire to have wisdom and discernment."

Votes in favor of the move included Butch Eley, Christi Branscom, David Salyers, Tre Hargett, David Lillard, Justin Wilson, Howard Gentry, Hallerin Hill and Logan Hampton.

Votes against the relocation included state Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson and District 7 state Rep. Matthew Hill of Jonesborough, Tennessee. Both members shared that their votes reflect the sentiments of their respective legislative bodies.

Johnson, who represents Williamson County in the state Senate, said he privately polled the state Senate and received 19 votes against the bust's relocation and 14 votes in favor. In 2017, when this issue last came before the commission, Johnson also voted against the removal of the bust.

The votes Thursday followed an hour and a half of public comment with varying opinions on the bust's position, and an additional hour and a half of discussion amongst the commission. Most of the commissioners took several minutes to express their support of the governor's recommendation, while Johnson and Matthew Hill, who voted against the motion, did not share personal opinions on the matter.

"Today, I'm here to vote not to turn our backs on history," Eley said. "Indeed, we must never forget this part of history, and we must learn from it to ensure that we do not relive it. By taking this action today, this body will be placing the bust in the state museum where we and those who come after us will hear that full story."

Salyers similarly shared this vote is not just about history but about the future.

"Removal of the bust from the state capitol will not delete history or erase history," he said. "It will, however, help further cement the foundation of how we envision our future, and while that is an ever-evolving journey, my hope is that our vote today will help facilitate further growth in the way that we think and act on issues that surround race."

Justin Wilson, the comptroller of the treasury who sits on the commission, proposed an amendment that would move busts of former U.S. Navy Admirals David Farragut and Albert Gleaves from the capitol to the museum in addition to the Forrest bust. The amendment also passed with nine affirmative votes and two — Johnson and Matthew Hill — abstaining.

"I commend members of the State Capitol Commission for taking up the Nathan Bedford Forrest bust issue and arriving at a thoughtful resolution that provides important historical context for the bust at the State Museum," Lee said. "Scripture implores us to live in peaceful unity, and I believe today’s actions reflect this and our commitment to remembering all parts of our past."

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