Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee has signed legislation that would proclaim July 13 as “Nathan Bedford Forrest Day,” honoring a Confederate Army general during the American civil war from 1861 to 1865.
In accordance with Tennessee law, the governor has to mandate six days of the year as “days of special observance.” Other days include June 3 as “Memorial Day” and Jan. 19 in honor of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.
“Nathan Bedford Forrest is a recognized military figure in American history and a native Tennessean,” the bill reads.
When asked for his rationale for signing the proclamation, Lee said that he “signed the bill because the law requires that I do that and I haven’t looked at changing that law.”
Forrest wasn’t just a military strategist, however, he also was a slave trader and an early member of the white supremacist Ku Klux Klan organization. The move by Lee to sign a bill honoring such a controversial figure has drawn backlash.
“Nathan Bedford Forrest was a slave owner and a racist, and no law should force us to honor him,” Nashville Mayor David Briley said.
“As Tennessee’s Governor ‘honors’ Nathan Bedford Forrest, a slave-holding, slave-trading, KKK leader from a dark era in our nation’s history, remember this is the state where Martin Luther King Jr. was slain,” Kristen Clarke, the President and Executive Director of The Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law said. “This is a disgraceful use of gubernatorial power.”
Parts of the U.S. continue to come to terms with their history of slavery, especially the role it played during the Civil War era. A statue of Robert E. Lee, a Confederate general and slave owner, still stands in Charlottesville, Virginia. A legal battle is currently preventing the authorities from taking the controversial statue down.