MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Governor Bill Lee signed a proclamation this week declaring Saturday “Nathan Bedford Forrest Day.”
Forrest was a Confederate general and the first grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. He was born in Chapel Hill, Tennessee July 13, 1821.
Forrest’s bust remains on display at the state Capitol.
A spokesperson for the governor’s office tells WMC Action News 5 that state law requires Lee to sign the proclamation.
“Tennessee governors are required by statute to issue a series of proclamations each year, including Nathan Bedford Forrest Day,” said Laine Arnold. "The proclamation that was issued complies with this obligation and is in keeping with prior years.”
Arnold did not comment on whether the governor is interested in changing the law but said the proclamation uses the exact language used during previous administrations.
Tennessee Code Annotated 15-2-101 states that the governor must proclaim six days of special observance each year, including Robert E. Lee Day (Jan. 19), Abraham Lincoln Day (Feb. 12), Andrew Jackson Day (March 15), Confederate Decoration Day (June 3), Nathan Bedford Forrest Day, July 13 and Veterans Day (Nov. 11).
The proclamation has received criticism from both sides of the aisle.
Congressman Steve Cohen, D-Tennessee, says he’s written to Lee twice to request Forrest’s bust be removed from the Capitol.
“Our state has a proud history, filled with notable contributions from many great Tennesseans," said Cohen. "We have better people to honor than the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. In recent years, an increasing number of state and local governments, including the City of Memphis, have recognized that symbols matter, and made changes to public displays to better reflect our values. Governor Lee should be bringing Tennessee into the 21st century not backsliding into the 19th.”
Senator Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said on Twitter Friday that Forrest should not have a day in his honor.