Despite public outcry, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee (R) re-signed a proclamation Thursday declaring July 13 as Nathan Bedford Forrest Day in the state, honoring the Ku Klux Klan grand wizard and former Confederate general.
Each year, according to state law, the governor is supposed to sign six such proclamations for days of observation, three of which are in honor of the Confederacy, according to The Tennessean. Though they’re mostly symbolic, the governor says 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.
His decision was roundly panned by the media. New York Times columnist Jamelle Bouie tweeted: “Very cool that Tennessee has a day honoring a confederate war criminal and founder of America’s oldest and deadliest terrorist group.”
Forrest is known to history as a bloodthirsty slave trader and the KKK’s very first grand wizard. In 1864, he led Confederate soldiers to commit what’s known as the Fort Pillow Massacre, according to The Washington Post. Three hundred Union soldiers, including 200 black soldiers, were murdered there, often at point-blank range.
Residents have been petitioning to remove two statues of Forrest ― including a bust from the state Capitol ― for years. But Lee defends Confederate monuments and the Ku Klux Klan as “part of our history.”
Earlier this year, Lee told The Tennessean 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 said he regretted going to “Old South” parties at Auburn University as part of the fraternity Kappa Alpha Order, which reportedly sees Confederate Army Gen. Robert E. Lee as a “spiritual founder.”
The governor’s hands aren’t tied in signing such a proclamation. As The Holler points out, plenty of governors have declined to sign them in the past, especially on proclamations they don’t personally agree with. In January, Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts (R) 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 President Donald Trump, according to The Hill.
Reached for comment, Gov. Lee’s spokeswoman released a stock statement reiterating that the governor is required to sign the proclamation:
“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.”