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VOL. 39 | NO. 25 | Friday, June 19, 2015

Call grows louder to remove bust of Confederate general

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NASHVILLE (AP) — The call to remove a bust of a Confederate general and Ku Klux Klan leader from the halls of the Tennessee Capitol got louder on Wednesday.

The state's two Republican speakers sent a letter to the Tennessee State Capitol Commission to evaluate the characteristics of those to be honored in the Capitol complex following calls to remove the bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest.

"From time to time, it is appropriate for the state of Tennessee to review which Tennesseans are honored and in what location and manner," the letter said. "Those honored in the Capitol should be those who accurately reflect the historic accomplishments of the Volunteer State and its people."

However, Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey of Blountville said in a separate statement that the effort to remove the bust "strikes me as a knee-jerk reaction."

"Whether the bust stays or goes, I am concerned that we are rapidly descending down the slippery slope of political correctness," he said.

The state is still verifying details of the process. But as it appears, if the Capitol Commission votes to remove the bust, the panel must seek a waiver from the Tennessee Historical Commission to avoid violating a state law that prohibits the removal or altercation of any monument or memorial dedicated in honor of the Civil War, among others.

Earlier this week, Republican Gov. Bill Haslam said he supports removing the bust, as well as Confederate flags from state license plates.

Calls to remove Confederate symbols reignited after the massacre of nine people at a black church in South Carolina last week. The white suspect, 21-year-old Dylann Storm Roof, posed in photos displaying Confederate flags.

Meanwhile, Memphis Mayor A C Wharton said he personally thinks a statue of Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest should be removed from its location at a city park.

In an emailed statement to The Associated Press late Wednesday, Wharton said he would like to see the statue of Forrest sitting on horse removed from Health Sciences Park and "returned to Forrest Monument Association that had it placed there." Wharton said the graves of Forrest and his wife, also located at the park, should be relocated to Elmwood Cemetery.

Health Sciences Park was called Forrest Park until the City Council voted in February 2013 to change the name. It also changed the name of Confederate Park to Memphis and Jefferson Davis Park to Mississippi River Park.

It was not immediately clear if the City Council will consider moving the statue.

"Memphis City Council has the authority to remove the statue from the park. I look forward to working with them to implement whatever change the Council approves," Wharton said.

Also Wednesday, the Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators and Senate Democratic leaders issued statements calling for the removal of the bust.

"Gov. Haslam has shown strong leadership this week in calling for the bust's removal following the tragedy in Charleston," Senate Minority Leader Lee Harris said. "We should seize this moment of national reflection and unity to remove divisive symbols from our state Capitol."

Middle Tennessee State University President Sidney McPhee said in a statement Wednesday that the university plans to revisit discussions about one of its buildings being named Forrest Hall.

Debate about the university's ties to Forrest rose periodically through the civil rights era and beyond, with the university removing a bronze medallion of Forrest from one of its buildings in 1989.

"Debate about the name of Forrest Hall has surfaced periodically through the years," McPhee said. "In light of the horrific killings in Charleston, and the national discussion that has ensued in the aftermath, it is right and appropriate to revisit this matter with the university community, our alumni and supporters, and state officials."

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