Nathan Bedford Forrest was an early leader of the Ku Klux Klan, and every July 13, Tennessee’s governor honors the racist bastard. That won’t change this year thanks to Gov. Bill Lee.
The Tennessean reported on Friday morning that Lee proclaimed Saturday as Nathan Bedford Forrest Day, a tradition dating back nearly a century to 1921. In the proclamation, the governor invites “all citizens to join (him) in this worthy observance” of a man only described as a “recognized military figure in American history and a native Tennessean,” completely avoiding the fact that Forrest was a Memphis slave trader, a war criminal as a Confederate leader, and a founding member of the fucking KKK. (He’s also the subject of one of the goofiest statues ever.)
Tennessee state law requires the governor to make proclamations on six non-national holidays throughout the year. Of those six, three, including Forrest Day, are dedicated to Confederate leaders—Jan. 19 is cordoned off as Robert E. Lee Day, and June 3 is Confederate Memorial Day, as it coincides with Confederate President Jefferson Davis’s birthday.
Forrest Day is a largely symbolic affair, as schools and government offices remain open, which is all the more reason Tennessee should ditch the proclamation. Shockingly, though, Lee is not in favor of changing the tradition, per the Tennessean:
“I signed the bill because the law requires that I do that and I haven’t looked at changing that law,” Lee said Thursday.
“I haven’t even looked at that law, other than knowing I needed to comply with it, so that’s what I did,” Lee said. “When we look at the law, then we’ll see.”
Likewise, Lee has made it clear that he does not want to remove the bust of Forrest that sits outside the Tennessee state Capitol’s legislative chambers, claiming it would be “a mistake to whitewash history.” As the paper reported earlier this year, the governor reasoned:
“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,” Lee said. “So I wouldn’t advocate to remove that.”
Now might be a good time to mention that while he was attending Auburn University, Lee partook in “Old South parties” in which he would dress as a Confederate general. (Lee’s fraternity also flew a big-ass Confederate flag outside their house and also threw parties on Robert E. Lee’s birthday, per the Tennessean. The frat has since disbanded the practices.)
The push to remove Forrest’s bust from the state Capitol (as well as the ridiculous statue off I-65) has been ongoing for years; most recently, a 2017 effort fell through when a government commission voted 7-5 against removal. In February, over 500 veterans presented the government with a petition supporting its removal, but nothing has come of the movement yet, save for Lee saying he’d be open to a plaque adding context to the bust.
Given that regular citizens in Tennessee and those in the neighboring state of North Carolina have repeatedly taken action into their own hands, a plaque is the absolute fucking least anyone with a semblance of power could do. Lee could also add context to the proclamation he’s required to make and call Forrest the white supremacist he was. Lee could call on the GOP-dominated state legislature to change the law. Lee could refuse to sign another bill until all this shit is fixed. He could, but he clearly has no desire to do so.
Update (3:35 p.m. ET): Via West Wing Reports, you can view the proclamation in full below.