On Thursday Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee re-signed a proclamation that declared July 13 as Nathan Bedford Forrest Day. Forrest was a Grand Wizard in the KKK and a Confederate general.
There was a loud outcry about the declaration, but Lee ignored his constituents and signed the proclamation.
According to Tennessee law each year the governor is supposed to sign six proclamations for days of observation. Three of them are slated to honor the Confederacy. Lee says that the signings are just symbolic, but he signs them out of a “sense of duty.”
“I signed the bill because the law requires that I do that and I haven’t looked at changing that law,” Lee told The Tennessean on Thursday.
Forrest is known in history as a “bloodthirsty slave trader and the KKK’s very first grand wizard.” He led Confederate soldiers to commit what is known historically as the Fort Pillow Massacre in 1864. Three hundred Union soldiers, 200 of which were black, were murdered many at point-blank range.
The proclamation was condemned by Republican and Democratic lawmakers.
“This is WRONG,” Sen. Ted Cruz tweeted. “Nathan Bedford Forrest was a Confederate general & a delegate to the 1868 Democratic Convention. He was also a slave trader & the 1st Grand Wizard of the KKK.”
“We should not be honoring Nathan Bedford Forrest, the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan and the perpetrator of the massacre at Fort Pillow,” Rep Steve Cohen of Tennessee said. “Gov. Lee should be bringing #Tennessee into the 21st century not backsliding into the 19th.”
Nashville Mayor David Briley said “no law should force us to honor” Forrest and called on Lee and Tennessee Republican lawmakers, who hold control in the General Assembly, to repeal the law.
Tennessee residents have been petitioning to remove two statues of Forrest for years. Lee, however, defends the states Confederate monuments and the Ku Klux Klan as part of the state’s history.
In an interview earlier this year Lee stated that “the Ku Klux Klan is a part of our history that we’re not proud of in Tennessee, and we need to be reminded of that and make certain that we don’t forget it. So, I wouldn’t advocate to remove that.”
At the same time, the governor added that he regretted going to “Old South” parties at Auburn University. He was part of the fraternity Kappa Alpha Order, which sees Confederate Army Gen. Robert E. Lee as a “spiritual founder.”
Lee could have easily declined to sign the proclamation, governors have declined to sign them in the past. In January, Gov. Pete Ricketts of Nebraska refused to sign a proclamation in honor of the book “This Blessed Earth: A Year in the Life of an American Family Farm,” by journalist Ted Genoways, because it contained criticism of Donald Trump.
Despite being informed that he did not have to sign the proclamation Lee continued to state that he was required to sign the it.
“Tennessee governors are required by statute to issue a series of proclamations each year, including Nathan Bedford Forrest Day,” said spokeswoman Laine Arnold. “The proclamation that was issued complies with this obligation and is in keeping with prior years.”