Just days after the Tennessee Historical Commission voted overwhelmingly to remove a bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest, the Confederate general and first Ku Klux Klan grand wizard, several Republicans state lawmakers are pushing to replace the entire commission with new members.
The bust of Forrest, which sits in the state capitol, has been the subject of protests for nearly all of its short history: Though the slave trader and KKK leader died in 1877, the bust of him was installed in 1978.
The state historical commission voted 25-1 last week to remove the bust after a five-hour meeting and years of protest. The bust and two others would be transferred from the Capitol to the the Tennessee State Museum.
Republican lawmakers sprung into action the following day, scheduling the bill to replace the commission for a committee hearing this week.
On Wednesday, the Tennessee State Government Operations Committee voted 5-4 to advance legislation that would entirely replace the commission’s members, and shrink it to a 12-person panel appointed by the governor and the leaders of the state House and Senate, all of whom are Republicans.
The bill faces opposition from members of both parties. Gov. Bill Lee (R) supports removing the bust, and a legislative liaison for the governor, Eric Mayo, said at the committee hearing Wednesday that the measure “removes the 29 excellent and qualified Tennesseans currently serving on the historical commission.”
“Our fear is that this dramatic shift will remove the institutional knowledge from the commission as it is currently formatted, and lead to a less effective representation for all Tennesseans,” he said.
But Republicans in favor of the measure said it was about allowing the legislature to have a say in the members of the historical commission, who are currently appointed by the governor. Others went so far as to invoke “cancel culture.”
“In our culture today it seems there is a desire, it seems, to cancel history, cancel culture, cancel narratives that are just based on fact. And I think that that’s a dangerous precedent,” said State Senator Janice Bowling (R).