UPDATE: Author of Dolly Parton Statue Bill Addresses Concerns
Congratulations, woke Twitter. You have officially blocked the effort to erect a statue of Dolly Parton in the Tennessee State House in Nashville, certifying that the current statue of Ku Klux Klan leader and Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest remains ensconced in its position in the Tennessee Capitol indefinitely. Welcome to the world of unintended consequences.
Democrat State Representative John Mark Windle formally brought forward House Bill 135 on January 13th for the creation of the statue for Dolly Parton’s work in both the arts and philanthropy in the state. The proposal was met with overwhelming bipartisan support across both political and cultural lines. Obviously, Dolly Parton is a very popular figure, is most certainly worthy of such a statue as a native Tennessean, and is an appropriate figure to be honored in her home state’s Capitol.
The effort was started by an individual named Alex Parsons who launched a petition last year specifically aimed at the Tennessee State House looking to replace Confederate-era statues. It was an anti-racist movement from the start that used Dolly Parton as the replacement specifically to draw interest and popularity to the cause. The petition received over 25,000 signatures, and is one of the reasons Tennessee House Bill 135 was able to move forward.
But a misguided notion that took root primarily on Twitter after the statue proposal was announced proclaimed that Dolly Parton was not worthy of a statue in the Tennessee Capitol. The idea became prominent enough primarily among music journalists and media members that Rolling Stone Country even wrote a story denouncing the proposal. Along with the strange discounting of Dolly Parton’s legacy by a country outlet, and the false notion someone should be dead before we can erect statues to them, the assertion by concerned individuals was that the Nathan Bedford Forrest statue should be replaced by a black icon, not Dolly.
Placing aside the fact that if it wasn’t for Dolly Parton’s name being involved in the statue in the first place we may not even be discussing a replacement, what the individuals also opposing the statue didn’t account for is that if the motion to honor Dolly Parton failed, so would the effort to replace the Nathan Bedford Forrest statue.
Well, on Thursday, February 18th, Dolly Parton, as is her nature, recused herself from the controversy by saying she didn’t want to be considered for the honor anymore, asking for legislators to remove the bill from consideration. Parton said in a public statement:
I want to thank the Tennessee legislature for their consideration of a bill to erect a statue of me on the Capitol grounds. I am honored and humbled by their intention but I have asked the leaders of the state legislature to remove the bill from any and all consideration.
Given all that is going on in the world, I don’t think putting me on a pedestal is appropriate at this time. I hope, though, that somewhere down the road several years from now or perhaps after I’m gone if you still feel I deserve it, then I’m certain I will stand proud in our great State Capitol as a grateful Tennessean.
In the meantime, I’ll continue to try to do good work to make this great state proud.
Don’t hold this against Dolly Parton. Her recusing herself for consideration for the statue is one of the very reasons she was proposed to be the one to replace the controversial statue in the first place. It’s similar to her not wanting to receive the National Medal of Arts from now President Biden after she refused the medal twice from President Trump due to logistical reasons. In an era when nobody seems to be able to see the bigger picture or reach out across divides to build consensus, Dolly Parton proves once again to be the bigger person.
But the end result is the same. Unless a bill in the Tennessee legislature can garner enough popularity to pass, the bust of Ku Klux Klan leader Nathan Bedford Forrest remains in place. And sorry, even though I’m a strong personal proponent of pioneering black harmonica player DeFord Bailey—who was one of the first performers ever on the Grand Ole Opry—it’s going to be tough to find a plurality of Tennesseans who even know who his is to create enough public consensus behind him or anyone else to get a statue funded, built, and through the political process.
It’s not that the idea of replacing the Nathan Bedford Forrest statue with a Civil Rights Leader or black icon is a bad one. In fact as Saving Country Music proposed, perhaps you could have included Dolly Parton in the proposal to win widespread popularity, while honoring a Civil Rights icon with a second statue as well. Now by interjecting identitarian ideology, removing the context of how and why the Dolly Parton statue even came to be proposed in the first place, and refusing to see the bigger picture, the end result is the extension of a Ku Klux Klan leader being honored in the Tennessee Capitol.
What Rolling Stone Country and many Nashville-based journalists got wrong is even something The New York Times got right. As columnist Margaret Renkel said earlier this week, “Even so, this troubled moment in history may be the perfect time for our state legislature to consider honoring Dolly Parton, a Tennessean who brings people together, someone whose creative work and public generosity remind us of what is good in human nature, someone whose very life prompts us to recall that what we share with one another will always be greater than what we allow to come between us.”
The Nathan Bedford Forrest statue eventually will be replaced. That’s just the way these things are going. But its demise could have been measured in days. Now it might be months, or years.
This story has been updated.