In a letter issued Monday, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam urged members of the Tennessee Historical Commission to act on Memphis' request to remove the statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest from Health Sciences Park during the board’s next meeting in October.
The 23-member commission has sole authority for the statue’s removal thanks to 2015’s Tennessee Heritage Protection Act, which was passed quickly by state lawmakers to prevent cities like Memphis from removing certain monuments.
“While I support the principle of local governments deciding what to place on their own properties, state laws reserve this desicison for the Historical Commission,” Haslam wrote.
Memphis City Council members voted to pull the monument in 2015. Haslam noted that Memphis officials filed a waiver to remove the statue in 2016. That waiver was denied but Memphis attorneys filed an objection to the ruling on procedural grounds and “the city of Memphis still awaits action by the Historical Commission,” Haslam wrote.
Haslam “strongly encouraged” commission members to vote on Memphis’ request and another waiver request issued by Middle Tennessee State University during their October meeting.
“A refusal to act on the petition in October will only prolong the issue and result in criticism of both the established process and the Commission itself, as this process can work effectively only if the reposnible entities act in a timely manner,” Haslam said.
The Tennessee Historical Commission is a 24-member board with members spread evenly throughout the state’s three Grand Divisions. However, one of the West Tennessee seats is vacant, according to the commission’s website. The term of that seat is set to expire at the end of next month.
The commission is set to meet on October 13 in the East Tennessee city of Athens.
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The Tennessee State Capitol Commission will begin it review of a move to remove a bust of Forrest from the state house. Haslam called for the bust’s removal in 2015, after the murders of African American church goers in Charleston, South Carolina.
Haslam issued this statement about the bust earlier this month.
“My position on this issue has not changed – I do not believe Nathan Bedford Forrest should be one of the individuals we honor at the Capitol,” he said. “The General Assembly has established a process for addressing these matters and I strongly encourage the Capitol Commission and the Historical Commission to act.”