The Tennessee Historical Commission voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday to allow the removal of a bust in the state's capital honoring Nathan Bedford Forrest, Confederate general and early leader of the Ku Klux Klan. Forrest stands above his traitorous colleagues as a Confederate General who is believed to have murdered more than 300 American soldiers at the Fort Pillow Massacre and who took on a leadership role in the early KKK.
Thanks to a tremendous effort from grassroots organizers, however, the bust honoring the racist traitor could soon be removed from the state's capital and placed in a museum where it belongs and where the horrific life of Gen. Forrest can be presented in its full context.
The story of the bust's removal is truly the story of community organizing bringing power to the people of Tennessee.
The Middle Tennessee branch of the Democratic Socialists of America alone organized email campaigns which sent more than 1,000 emails in addition to finding and coordinating speakers for multiple meetings of the Historical Commission and putting together a mass of research into the voting records and organizational affiliations of Commission members. All of this was done through their Workers Against Racism or WAR working group as a part of their #burythebust campaign.
Big name groups like People's Plaza, which occupied the renamed Ida B. Wells Plaza for months despite brutal attacks on their bodies and basic rights from Gov. Lee and the Tennessee Highway Patrol, were heavily involved in this effort as well, coordinating speakers for meetings and using their considerable social media presence to drive public interest to a commission which often operates under the radar.
These are only a couple of the key players in this effort, as groups like Black Lives Matter Nashville were also heavily involved.
Ultimately, this victory shows the organizational power of the left here in Tennessee, and a path to success which is able to bypass electoral struggles in favor of more direct action. Just as General Forrest himself and the Confederacy for which he fought were defeated by the great, working people of this nation, his bust has been removed by a massive, multi-racial coalition of workers which has asserted plainly that Forrest's hateful career should not be honored.
The masses have spoken and must continue to force the issue over objections from the Tennessee legislature. We must keep fighting, not only to build power and cohesion within the movement for racial and economic justice, but because it is what we do. Our movement is at its best when we are doing what we're meant to do: fighting for the rights and dignity of our fellow workers.
As I said in my own letter in support of the removal:
“While the sad, dying breed of white nationalist sympathizers fight a losing battle to protect monuments to a dead past, we are here to fight for our own monuments which are not cast in iron or marble, but exist entirely in the present as crowds of thousands of working people standing in solidarity across the state and the nation. If their ancestors are honored by building monuments to white supremacy and domination in the past and defending it in the present, then ours are honored by breaking the chains of domination wherever they exist that our marginalized brothers and sisters and siblings of this state might live in peace and dignity.”
The people of this state have spoken so loudly that our government can no longer pretend that they don't hear us.
It is long past time that Nathan Bedford Forrest's bust be resigned, along with every other artifact of racism and domination, to the distant memory of a shameful past so that we may build a stronger, more equitable future in the halls where it once stood.