Gov. Bill Lee (R) said he “will be working to change” a Tennessee law requiring the state to honor a Confederate general who traded slaves and was the first grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.
Though Lee told The Tennesseean on Thursday that he hadn’t “looked at changing that law,” it appears he is now considering action.
“While it is my job as governor to enforce the law, I want Tennesseans to know where my heart is on this issue,” he tweeted Monday. “Our state’s history is rich, complex and in some cases painful. With this in mind, I will be working to change this law.”
In an interview earlier that day with local ABC affiliate WKRN-TV, Lee acknowledged that parts of Forrest’s life are “part of painful history and why I, we, need to look at changing law, and I will work with legislators to do that.”
Despite Forrest’s embrace of white supremacy, the proclamation Lee recently signed applauded him as “a recognized military figure in American history and a native Tennessean.”
Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) also condemned the recognition of Forrest, warning Lee that, rather than bringing his state “into the 21st century,” he was “backsliding into the 19th.”
In a statement released Tuesday, Heidi Beirich of the Southern Poverty Law Center, an Alabama-based nonprofit advocating for civil rights, said Lee needed to do more than just talk.
“It is important to change the Tennessee state law that requires the governor to issue proclamations for three days of special observation honoring the Confederacy,” she said. “But lawmakers can’t just talk about undoing laws that honor the Confederacy, they must act ― and we must hold them accountable if they don’t.”