Justin Fox Burks
The Nathan Bedford Forrest statue in Health Sciences Park
The Tennessee House of Representatives approved a bill Thursday that would prohibit the removal of markers honoring military conflicts in the state, a move that might affect the future of the Nathan Bedford Forrest statue in Health Sciences Park.
On a vote of 71 to 23, House members passed the Tennessee Heritage Act of 2016, which completely replaces the Tennessee Heritage Act of 2013.
The bill says “no statue, monument, memorial, nameplate, or plaque which has been erected for, or named or dedicated in honor of a military conflict that is identified in a list of conflicts in which the U.S. has participated and is located on public property, may be relocated, removed, altered, renamed, rededicated, or otherwise disturbed…”
It also says any building, park, school, or street named in honor of a historical military figure, event, organization, or unit may not be changed.
The bill explicitly defines public property to mean any property leased or owned by the state, counties, and cities.
To Nashville lawmakers, the bill would help forecast the future of a bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest in the Tennessee State Capitol building.
In Memphis, the bill could help direct the next moves on a plan to, perhaps, remove the statue of Forrest from Health Sciences Park. Former Memphis Mayor A C Wharton called for the statue’s removal last year.
New Mayor Jim Strickland’s plans for the statue are not yet known. However, Strickland voted to remove the statue in August as a member of the Memphis City Council. A spokesman in Strickland's office said the mayor had no comment on the new bill.
In debate on the bill Tuesday, Nashville Representative Harold Love, an African American AME pastor, urged lawmakers to see some of the state’s markers from another person’s point of view.
“Sometimes in life, we have to do the hard thing that shows we have moved on and we have healed,” Love said. “It’s one thing to look at something on a personal level and then to step back and look at it again from someone else’s point of view.”
The bill’s House sponsor Steve McDaniel (R-Parkers Crossroads) said the bill will help guide the state “so we don’t have knee-jerk reactions to [events] across this country.”
The bill does lay out a process for government agencies to get a waiver for removal from the Tennessee Historical Commission. The new rules update the old rules on the process by mandating public notice of the waiver request and making hearings on requests open.
Those waiver requests would have to get a two-thirds majority by the historical commission for approval.
The Tennessee Senate will review the matter in a meeting Tuesday.