Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee signed a proclamation declaring July 13 Nathan Bedford Forrest Day. Forrest was a Confederate general, slave trader and an early leader of the Ku Klux Klan.
A Tennessee law dating back to 1971 mandates that the governor must issue proclamations for six state holidays each year, including days for Nathan Bedford Forrest and Robert E. Lee, CBS Nashville affiliate WTVF reported.
According to the Tennessee code, the governor must declare January 19 as "Robert E. Lee Day"; February 12 as "Abraham Lincoln Day"; March 15 as "Andrew Jackson Day"; June 3 as "Memorial or Confederate Decoration Day"; July 13 as "Nathan Bedford Forrest Day"; and November 11, as "Veterans' Day."
"I signed the bill because the law requires that I do that and I haven't looked at changing that law," Lee said Thursday.
According to The Tennessean, Lee declined to say if he thought the state law should be changed — something Tennessee Democrats have been hoping would happen. Previous efforts by Democrats have failed.
"This a reminder of the painful and hurtful crimes that were committed against black people," Rep. Vincent Dixie of Nashville told WTVF.
Dixie said he was previously unaware July 13 was Nathan Bedford Forrest Day in Tennessee and criticized Lee's decision to sign the proclamation.
"Now you're signing a proclamation honoring the same people that fought to keep people that look like me, African Americans in slavery," Dixie said.
There is a bust of Forrest in the state capitol and there is a highly-visible statue of him on Interstate 65. There have been calls to remove the bust. The statue, which is on private property, is frequently defaced.