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Tennessee Governor Signs Proclamation Honoring Slave Trader, KKK Leader

Tennessee law dictates that the governor must sign proclamations for six state holidays, including Nathan Bedford Forrest Day.
Tennessee Governor Signs Proclamation Honoring Slave Trader, KKK Leader
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee is facing backlash after signing a proclamation declaring Saturday, July 13, as Nathan Bedford Forrest Day in the state.

As News Channel 5 Nashville reports, Forrest was a Civil War Confederate general , a slave trader, and an early leader of the Ku Klux Klan—in in other words, a virulent racist.

The proclamation has led to heated discussions in the state as to how this is even a little bit okay

“How can you be a person of humanity, how and then support that statue, support a day when he was the head of the KKK, how can you do that?” Jim Wohlgemuth, with Veterans for Peace, asked the news station.

“To do this again, to honor Nathan Bedford Forrest again with a day is just saying, guess what, if you’re a person of color we don’t care about you,” he added.

Wohlgemuth and the Veterans for Peace have been fighting for about two years to get Forrest’s bust removed from the capitol building. The fact that there is a whole day honoring a person who thought of Black people as less than has further stoked their concern.

But, this is nothing new. The day has been observed in Tennessee for almost 50 years, the news station reports.

It apparently has to do with state law, dating back to 1971, which directs the governor to issue proclamations for six holidays every year, including days honoring Forrest, and Robert E. Lee, another Confederate racist. There is also a call for a mandatory proclamation for a “Memorial or Confederate Decoration Day,” and “Andrew Jackson Day” so there’s somewhat of a theme going on, although the mandate does also include Abraham Lincoln Day.

However, the law hasn’t stopped House Democrats in Tennessee from slamming the proclamation.

“This a reminder of the painful and hurtful of the crimes that were committed against black people,” said Rep. Vincent Dixie told the news site.

According to Dixie, he and many others didn’t know of the day to begin with and argued that the governor made the wrong choice in signing the proclamation.

“Now you’re signing a proclamation honoring the same people that fought to keep people that look like me, African Americans in slavery,” Dixie said.

Lee, for his part, argued that the law, as mentioned before, requires him to sign it, although he also added that he hasn’t “looked into changing that law,” for whatever reason, as CBS News notes.

However, Dixie said that this is something that he plans to take a closer look at.

“I plan on working with legislators to correct this issue; If the governor is sincere about really being the governor for all Tennesseans and not some Tennesseans then he would get behind me, and do the right thing,” the congressman said.