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Nathan Bedford Forrest bust debate: 'How many people can I butcher & be honored?'

Rep. Jason Hodges (D-Clarksville) questions a historian about the Nathan Bedford Forrest bust. (TN Gov)
Rep. Jason Hodges (D-Clarksville) questions a historian about the Nathan Bedford Forrest bust. (TN Gov)
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The debate over whether or not to remove the Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest bust from the Tennessee Capitol has become a heated issue and the sentiments haven't been lost on House legislators.

On Tuesday, Rep. Jason Hodges (D-Clarksville) took issue to the question of "how many people were massacred" being weighed in relation to the decision of what to do with the bust of Forrest, an early leader of the Ku Klux Klan - particularly a bill to replace the bust with other "deserving Tennesseans."

"I heard you disputing earlier 'how many people were massacred,' not that there weren't people massacred. So what is a good number? How many people can you massacre and still be honored? Just out of curiosity," Hodges said. "You're not disputing that the guy didn't massacre people, you're disputing how many. What's a good number to be honored by the state of Tennessee?"

The exchange took place with Dr. Michael Bradley, a historian.

“First of all, we do not know how many people were massacred, that is if we’re going to use the term massacre at all,” Bradley said. “The term massacre is obviously a loaded word. It was never used by some people and it was by others.”

“For many years Forrest was referred to as ‘the Butcher of Fort Pillow.’ Massacre was used by the [inaudible]”

Hodges then cuts in:

“Well let’s go with butcher.

How many people can I butcher and still be honored by the state of Tennessee?”

Bradley replies, “probably a large number because many of our people have done it in the pastincluding some of those who have statues on the Capitol grounds.”

“And to answer your question: Why don’t you ask the Native Americans about Andrew Jackson?

Or ask Andrew Johnson about the policies of officers under his command? There are over 500 civilians and Confederate officers of war”

Hodges then says, "because this bill is concerning Nathan Bedford Forrest sir, thank you.”

Bradley says the bill also concerns Tennessee citizens.

“But it does concern Tennesseans, which you ask about. Over 500 of those were executed without trial and their record of that is in writing in the Tennessee State Library of Archives and History.”

After the exchange, Rep. John Mark Windle (D-Livingston) asked those in the meeting to “maintain the proper decorum” and "make sure that our guests are treated appropriately and also the sponsor of the bill and anyone who wants to testify."

“We’ve got plenty of time, this is an important issue, more important than some people may realize," Windle said. "So let’s do our constitutional duty to listen and make an appropriate decision.”

The measure, HJR0686, was rolled over until next week.

Meanwhile, Gov. Bill Lee said he planned to introduce an amendment to a law requiring Tennessee to honor Nathan Bedford Forrest Day. Lee's office confirmed to the Associated Press that he was working on the bill, but declined to provide further details about the proposal.

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Many have suggested alternatives to Forrest's bust in the Capitol, such as beloved Tennessee native Dolly Parton.

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