Rep. Yusuf Hakeem demands removal of the Nathan Bedford Forrest bust from State Capitol

Rep. Yusuf Hakeem has fought for years for removal of the controversial Nathan Bedford Forrest memorial, which is situated outside Tennessee’s Senate and House chambers.

State Rep. Yusuf Hakeem last Friday demanded that the bust of Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest be immediately removed from the Tennessee Capitol building.

July 9 marked the end of a mandatory 120-day waiting period that followed the Tennessee Historical Commission’s authorization of the bust removal in March. 

“We are long overdue for a state that embraces inclusivity and rejects symbols of hate,” Hakeem, a Democrat who represents District 28, said. “I want to see Tennessee be a leader in healing racial divides, and it starts with relocating the bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest to the Tennessee State Museum.”

The Historical Commission’s approval came after a vote by the State Capitol Commission last summer, at Republican Governor Bill Lee’s urging, to relocate the Forrest bust–as well as those of Union Admiral David Farragut and U.S. Admiral Albert Gleaves–to the Tennessee State Museum, where all three can be provided more historical context. 

Lee, pointing out that the controversial bust “represents pain and suffering and brutal crimes committed against African Americans,” successfully pressed the relocation of the massive bronze image before the Tennessee Historical Commission in March. Although on the campaign trail two years earlier, the future governor said he was against removing Confederate monuments.

Lee apparently now wants additional disussion before moving the statue, as the issue appears headed to the July 22 State Building Commission’s meeting as an agenda item, where it once again will be a topic of heated debate. 

With renewed calls to take down Confederate monuments from public spaces across the country, amid heightened attention on racial injustice, members of the Tennessee Democratic Caucus–led by Rep. Hakeem–are keeping the pressure on for removal of the polarizing Forrest memorial outside Tennessee’s Senate and House chambers.

“Quite frankly, we’ve been dialoguing for the last 50 years and what change has taken place? It’s time for action,” Rep. Hakeem said.

In a June 2020 General Assembly Legislative Update, Rep. Hakeem asserted that, “Many of the Confederate statues were erected between the 1890s and 1920s during the height of Jim Crow and state-sponsored segregation. The bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest was installed in the Tennessee State Capitol in 1978, following the civil rights movement. We, as a country, need to reckon with our heritage and what it means appropriately. We can no longer ignore it or say it’s something other than what it is. Racism. His bust at the State Capitol, like many other Confederate statues, are symbols of systemic racism and oppression in our country. Their purpose singular, to send a message to all African Americans, know your place. The bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest must be removed.”

Forrest has long been a controversial figure. During the Civil War, the Battle of Fort Pillow, also known as the Fort Pillow massacre, was fought on April 12, 1864, on the Mississippi River in Henning, Tenn. Under Forrest’s command, more than 300 Black Union troops were killed at Ft. Pillow during the infamous massacre as they sought to surrender. 

Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest, the early Ku Klux Klan leader whose bust has been on display in the Tennessee state Capitol since 1978.