Why Dolly Parton Doesn’t Deserve a Nashville Statue — Yet

A bill proposes erecting a likeness of the country-music legend at the Tennessee state capitol, but any new statue should honor a black leader.

By MARCUS K. DOWLING  (Rollingstone)

No one can dispute the artistic, humanitarian, and philanthropic legacy of Dolly Parton. Her $1 million donation last spring to Vanderbilt University to develop a Covid vaccine has all but helped save the world. But a recent proposal to honor the Sevierville, Tennessee, native with a statue on the capitol grounds in Nashville is premature.

To be sure, the controversial and odious bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest — the Confederate Army general and Ku Klux Klan leader — that currently rests inside the rotunda needs to go. But a statue of Parton, an Instagram tourist magnet though it would be, isn’t the path forward.

Look around. The United States is suffering from the impact of just the latest nationwide wave of vitriolic racism, but America’s bigotry is a scourge older than the country itself. Any new statue of a Tennessee-associated icon at the capitol should nod toward repairing the generational fractures — social, political, and economic — between black residents and the rest of the state.

Think a black advocate for black equity. Perhaps journalist-activist Ida B. Wells, civil-rights lawyer Z. Alexander Looby, or even John Lewis, who was recently honored with a stretch of Nashville’s 5th Avenue renamed in his honor. Artists shouldn’t be excluded either: DeFord Bailey, the first black Grand Ole Opry star, Memphis-born Aretha Franklin, and Tennessee native Isaac Hayes are all worthy choices. Looby and Hayes are particularly appealing. Looby was instrumental in the Nashville lunch-counter sit-ins of 1960, leading the legal defense of the students involved, while Hayes, a.k.a. “Black Moses,” created the soundtrack for black defiance, black liberation, and black power.

Besides, for those on a Parton pilgrimage, there is already an important place in Nashville to pay homage to the singer, songwriter, actress, and all-around force of positivity. Parton’s likeness is immortalized in another rotunda not far from the capitol: her induction plaque hangs in the Country Music Hall of Fame.