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Gov. Lee appoints new Capitol Commission member as debate over Nathan Bedford Forrest bust rages

The Tennessean (Nashville) logo The Tennessean (Nashville) 6/25/2020 Joel Ebert, Nashville Tennessean
a man wearing a suit and tie: Lane College President Dr. Logan Hampton welcomes guest to the Rural Tennessee Gubernatorial Forum, Tuesday, April 17, at Lane College. Candidates Craig Fitzhugh, Randy Boyd, Bill Lee, and Karl Dean participated in the forum answering questions from education to the urban-rural divide. © KENNETH CUMMINGS/The Jackson Sun Lane College President Dr. Logan Hampton welcomes guest to the Rural Tennessee Gubernatorial Forum, Tuesday, April 17, at Lane College. Candidates Craig Fitzhugh, Randy Boyd, Bill Lee, and Karl Dean participated in the forum answering questions from education to the urban-rural divide.

Gov. Bill Lee on Thursday announced his latest appointment to the state Capitol Commission.

Logan Hampton, president of Lane College, will become the newest member to join the commission, which has garnered attention in recent weeks as protests continue to call for removal of the bust of Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest located on the second floor of the Capitol.

The governor also named Department of Finance and Administration Commissioner Butch Eley as the new chairman of the Capitol Commission. Eley takes over for Stuart McWhorter, who previously served as chairman before leaving the Lee administration to enter the private sector.

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Lee's latest appointment comes just days after he signaled his intention to take such action.

Speaking to reporters last week, the governor said he would call the commission to meet shortly after he fills the vacancies. 

Lee's appointment of Hampton fills a spot in which he previously named Tyreece Miller, the Jackson Police Department's deputy chief. Miller left the post after being nominated by President Donald Trump to serve as U.S. marshal of the Western District of Tennessee.

Like Miller, Hampton is Black, making him the third African American the governor has appointed to the commission since he took office. Along with Miller, Lee named talk radio show host Hallerin Hill to the commission last year. Lane College is a historically black college in Jackson, Tennessee. 

In February, the commission listened to supporters and detractors of the Forrest bust, which was placed on the second floor of the Capitol in 1978. At the time, McWhorter said a decision on the bust wouldn't be made until after the commission returns to full membership.

Critics of the bust say it unfairly honors Forrest, who was a slave trader, early Ku Klux Klan leader and Confederate general who commanded troops during the massacre of Union soldiers, many of whom were Black, at Fort Pillow in West Tennessee.

Defenders of the bust argue its removal would be an effort to eliminate history and ignore Forrest's changed views on race later in life, as well as his decision to renounce his involvement with the Klan.

a statue of a person: A bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest is on display in Tennessee State Capitol on June 11, 2020. © Shelley Mays/The Tennessean A bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest is on display in Tennessee State Capitol on June 11, 2020.

Although he has stopped short of calling for the bust's removal, Lee has evolved on the issue. When he was campaigning and after he first entered office in January 2019, the governor was opposed to removing the bust, saying it would be "a mistake to whitewash history." But in February 2019, Lee said he supported adding historical context to the bust. 

Last week, Lee offered his latest thoughts on the bust, telling reporters, "Symbols matter."

Noting his ongoing conversations with Black residents as part of larger "racial reconciliation" efforts, Lee said, "Proclamations and statues are not just snapshots of our history, they are a window into what we value."

The governor's newest appointment to the Capitol Commission won't be the last new members to join the panel. The commission will also see a new member after the recent death of Reavis Mitchell. Mitchell was the chairman of the state Historical Commission, which receives an automatic seat on the Capitol Commission.

Patrick McIntyre, executive director of the Historical Commission, said he expected the panel to vote on filling the vacant chairman position when it meets on July 10. 

And last week, on the final day of the legislative session, lawmakers approved HB 1772, which increases the commission by two additional members. The legislation lets the House and Senate speaker each appoint a private citizen to the panel. Lee has yet to sign the bill, which has not reached his desk. Upon his signature, the measure will immediately become law. 

The Capitol Commission is one of two state panels that would need to sign off on any effort to remove the controversial bust. When the commission last voted on the bust in 2017, it rejected a plan to move it to the state museum. The Tennessee Historical Commission also would need to sign off on a move.

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Reach Joel Ebert at jebert@tennessean.com or 615-772-1681 and on Twitter @joelebert29.

This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Gov. Lee appoints new Capitol Commission member as debate over Nathan Bedford Forrest bust rages

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