Tennessee governor says it’s time to address issues of racial reconciliation head on, plans Juneteenth proclamation

Gov. Bill Lee gives update on COVID-19 in Tennessee 6/18

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WMC) - Governor Bill Lee says issues regarding race have weighed heavily on him in recent weeks.

The Tennessee governor dedicated his time at a weekly COVID-19 briefing to addressing the issue of racial reconciliation, saying it’s not a political issue but rather a human being issue and a spiritual issue for him.

“There have been many flash points in recent weeks, and these flash points represent years of pain and years of long-held attitudes of indifference,” said Lee.

He said he believes recent events have created an opportunity for growth, understanding and progress.

“It’s a time to engage issues of racial reconciliation head on,” said Lee. “Because that is the heart of the matter, and to me currently that looks like constant communication with black leaders, with faith leaders, with law enforcement.”

Lee thanked members of his administration, calling them diverse, thoughtful and “willing to put voice to experiences that I have not had.”

“I’m grateful to those who have taken the time to speak earnestly to me about those issues,” he said.

The governor said calls to defund the police and play politics are unproductive.

“We’re at a critical crossroads in Tennessee that’s going to require us to drop the political theater and to embrace the dignity of each of our neighbors,” said Lee.

He said symbols matter, and while proclamations and statues like the Nathan Bedford Forrest bust at the Tennessee Capitol represents our history, they also create tension and pain.

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“As I’ve said, at the very least, I believe there ought to be context around the bust,” said Lee. “Especially since Forrest represents a particularly painful part of history for African Americans.”

He said efforts to address the bust were slowed by the COVID-19 pandemic and vacancies on the Capitol Commission, which has final say on the future of the bust. The governor says those vacancies should be filled in the next few weeks.

The governor also announced plans to sign a Juneteenth proclamation Friday, recognizing the end of slavery in the United States June 19, 1865.

“We are at a transformative time in our country, and I believe that our state can be a force for restoration during this time and we can be an example to the rest of the nation,” said Lee.

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