For more than 40 years, a statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest — a Confederate general, alleged war criminal and early Ku Klux Klan leader — enjoyed prominent placement in the Tennessee State Capitol.
Since the bust’s dedication in 1978, there have been protests over it, particularly by Black Tennesseans. Those protests heated up in recent years, as the Black Lives Matter movement grew across the country. In 2020, protests erupted across the U.S., including in Nashville, after a Minneapolis police officer murdered George Floyd. Across the street from the Capitol, protesters held a campsite for 62 nights in protest of police violence and to call for the removal of the Forrest bust. Longtime activist Venita Lewis visited the site, which young protesters dubbed the People’s Plaza, and offered insight from her own life of action and protest. She also showed that this occupation wasn’t a new struggle — plenty had raised their voices before to remove the statue.
That said, People’s Plaza celebrated when the State Capitol Commission voted to move the bust in a July 2020 meeting. Despite pearl-clutching from GOP leaders like House Speaker Cameron Sexton and Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, the Tennessee Historic Commission voted in March of this year to remove the bust, and it was taken down in July, headed for the state museum. (Curiously, the busts of two union admirals are also being relocated to the museum.) It took a long time to get the bust out of there, but as the advocates who called for its removal demonstrate, the broader fight for equality and justice is never a short one.
Associate Editor, Nashville Scene