Forrest bust removal

Workers remove the bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest from the state Capitol in July.

After a long road to removal from the state Capitol last year, a bust of Confederate general and early Ku Klux Klan leader Nathan Bedford Forrest could face another move — this time to Columbia, Tennessee.

Two state lawmakers are proposing legislation that would turn over the Forrest bust, currently housed at the Tennessee State Museum, as well as hundreds of other Confederate artifacts not currently on display at the museum to the Tennessee division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans headquarters in Columbia.

The group, founded in 1896, commissioned and donated the Forrest bust to be displayed in the Capitol in 1977.

Sen. Janice Bowling, R-Tullahoma, and Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver, R-Lancaster, are sponsoring House bills 2873 and 2874.

The state museum has approximately 80 flags and flag fragments and more than 400 other items, including uniform pieces, clothing, weapons, books, currency and historical documents, related to Tennessee’s role in the Confederate States of America. Most are not on display, according to the bill.

The collection is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars and represents irreplaceable pieces of state history. Confederate flags alone often appraise between $50,000 and $300,000. The most expensive Confederate flag ever sold was a battle flag carried by Confederate Gen. J.E.B. Stuart. It sold for $956,000 in 2006.

Bowling and Weaver are proposing to turn the collection over to the Sons of Confederate Veterans. The bill also requires that if any Confederate artifacts currently displayed in the museum’s permanent exhibition are removed from public view, they would become the property of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

The state museum was made aware of the proposals only recently, according to museum spokesperson Joe Pagetta.

“We are still evaluating the depth of this proposed legislation, but can say a transfer of these artifacts would have a significant impact on the museum,” Pagetta told Main Street Nashville in an email.

If the proposal is approved by the legislature, the group would be responsible for transfer and maintenance of the artifacts. Taxpayer funds would no longer be used to preserve or store the bust or other Confederate items.

The 2,000-pound brass Forrest bust was removed from an honored alcove on the second floor of the state Capitol in July after years of protests and activism calling for its removal. Removal work cost the state $17,000.

The proposal was initiated by the Sons of Confederate Veterans group, in collaboration with other entities, according to Joey Nolan, commander of the group’s Tennessee division.

If the legislature approves transfer of the artifacts, Nolan told Main Street Nashville that the group would “display, preserve and maintain the artifacts for future generations.”

Speaking to reporters Thursday, House Speaker Cameron Sexton said transfer of the artifacts “should be a decision left up to the state museum.”

Another, seemingly opposite proposal by Bowling and Weaver would create a $10,000 per day fine if a public entity removes, alters or defaces a memorial, or renames a historic memorial or public building that is named after a historical figure. Money collected from the fines would go to the Tennessee Historic Preservation Fund.

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