NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) — With the Capitol Commission voting to remove the Nathan Bedford Forrest bust from the State Capitol, a vote is still needed from the Historical Commission to make it official. 

However there are many other nods to Forrest around the state. A state park in Benton County, Forrest High School in Chapel Hill (the town where he was born), and Forrest Hall at MTSU.

Murfreesboro has quite a few reminders of Nathan Bedford Forrest at the Rutherford County Historic Courthouse. A plaque on the building is dedicated to Forrest by the United Daughters of the Confederacy from July 13, 1912. 

Beyond the building is a marker for “Forrest’s Murfreesboro Raid” and on the opposite side is a marker for the Battle of Murfreesboro with a picture of Forrest.

With all the recognition for Forrest, we wanted to know what the community thought. 

Senait Desta of Rutherford County says, “I honestly didn’t know it was there, I don’t know why it’s there, I think it should be taken down.”

Desta has protested in Nashville for the Black Lives Matter movement after the death of George Floyd.

She says, “I feel like a statue or a plaque, it makes no difference. If I had known it was there, I definitely would have felt some kind of way. It does make me feel uncomfortable knowing that it’s there.”

Chris Stagner who grew up in Murfreesboro felt similarly.

“I would think that the plaques are probably in the same veins as the statue. They have an important part to play in history but not necessarily on public display. I think you know we live in a very unique area where you know the civil war hit us in this area pretty hard that’s why the Stone River Battlefield exists and I think that might be a more appropriate place to display these things if they’re that important to people. If they are displayed they should be used as educational tools.

"I think it’s important to remember the Confederate Army was fighting against the United States of America and that’s called treason and traitorousness. And I think especially to have a monument to a confederate general on a courthouse is especially egregious because people who might be going to trial, specifically black people, have to deal with the fact that there’s a confederate monument on the building. Is that indicative of the mentality of people who are in the courthouse? Yeah I’m not at all cool with it being there and yes it does need to be moved.”

Rutherford County Mayor Bill Ketron wasn’t available for comment Friday but his office referred us to a previous statement talking about turning the courthouse into a “working museum.”

The Confederate Soldier Monument has been part of the courthouse square for over 100 years. In 1914, during the fiftieth anniversary of the Civil War, the Sons of Confederate Veterans and Ladies Memorial Association, together with county officials and other citizens, raised funds for the monument and its stone base. They placed it originally at the east entrance of the courthouse lawn, facing East Main Street. Later, county officials relocated it to the northeast corner of the courthouse lawn. At that time, the other major Civil War monument in Murfreesboro was the Hazen Monument, which commemorates Union soldiers, on the Nashville Highway (now part of the Stones River National Battlefield).

I am aware that there is a petition and other movements related to the relocation/removal of the statue. I read one just last week. The petition states that the monument “belongs to a cemetery or museum.” It soon will be in a museum. Over the next year, the county commission and I hope to complete our vision of renovating the historic courthouse, inside and out, and convert the building and its grounds into a “working museum.” We recognize that the Rutherford County Courthouse is certainly the jewel of all of our historic sites. It speaks to the entire community and we wish for the “working museum” to do the same—convey the whole story of our history.

For the courthouse exhibits, we have asked for the assistance of Dr. Carroll Van West from Middle Tennessee State University’s Center for Historic Preservation and officials from the Tennessee State Museum. We want the museum to showcase artifacts, maps, and photographs native to Rutherford County’s history from the very beginning up to modern day. The courthouse grounds will be part of the museum as well. Already the lawn has a Veterans Memorial, a monument to the time when Murfreesboro served as State Capitol, and other monuments and markers addressing different people and events in our history.

Our “working museum,” both inside and out, must portray the full history of Rutherford County. Our history is not always pleasant. Traders once sold enslaved people at the square. The Cherokee Trail of Tears passed through the town square. A Civil War battle was fought on the town square. Jim Crow segregation once held sway in the courthouse and entire county. Lynchings have taken place in our county. We must learn from those injustices. But we also must recognize our story is full of citizens who made a difference. Their journey for progress, hope, love, and unity has served to make our community a stronger, better place to live.

We are making progress. Phase I of the “working museum” has been completed (5 banners in the entrance way with pictures and historical information). Phase II was halted in early March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Phase II consists of a display in the main lobby of the courthouse from the Civil War era to World War II, and Phase III will cover post-WWII to the arrival of Nissan and other international corporations in recent times.

Nathan Bedford Forrest Day is July 13th in the state. However, for the first time, the Governor will not need to proclaim it this year. 

Governors in the state have been mandated to proclaim Nathan Bedford Forrest Day as July 13th each year however Governor Lee urged the legislature to take up a bill which would no longer require governors to do so and remove the day from the state’s list of special observances.

They passed the measure so he wouldn’t have to proclaim the day but amended the bill so it will still be left on the calendar as a day of observation on July 13th.

As for MTSU, President Sidney McPhee says he’s having the conversations again about changing the name of Forrest Hall.

Back in 2018 the Tennessee Historical Commission voted 17-5 to deny the request to rename it.

McPhee says since that denial MTSU is now governed by their own Board of Trustees.

"I have begun preliminary discussions with our board’s leadership on how best to proceed on this issue in light of recent developments.”

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