Despite Defending Confederate Bust Four Decades Ago, Alexander Now Says It Should Go

Aug 22, 2017

Four decades after defending the placement of a Confederate bust in the State Capitol, Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander now says it should go.

The Republican lawmaker and former governor told reporters Tuesday that he's come to see a statue of Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest as inappropriate in a place of honor such as the statehouse rotunda.

"I, like other people, learn as we go along," he says.

The bust of Forrest was installed in the Capitol in 1978, just months before Alexander took over as governor. There were calls then to take it down, but Alexander says he instead wanted to focus on appointing African-Americans to high state offices and on creating a state holiday honoring Martin Luther King, Jr.

"I thought those actions were more important," he says. "As I look at it now, I think it's not appropriate for General Forrest's bust to be in a place of honor in the State Capitol. I'd rather see Howard Baker or Sam Houston or Minnie Pearl or Ben Hooks or someone who inspires all of us."

Alexander advocates moving memorials honoring Confederate figures to museums, former battlefields or their birthplaces. That includes both the bust of Forrest and a larger memorial in a Memphis park.

Gov. Bill Haslam has called on the State Capitol Commission to petition to remove the bust. Final approval must come from the Tennessee Historical Commission.