Tennessee Governor Bill Lee plans to introduce legislation this year amending a law requiring Tennessee to honor Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest, an early leader of the Ku Klux Klan. Lee previously expressed displeasure over the honor.
Forrest joined the Ku Klux Klan in 1867 (two years after its founding) and was elected its first Grand Wizard. The Klan, with Forrest at the lead, suppressed voting rights of blacks in the South through violence and intimidation during the elections of 1868. In 1869, Forrest had a change of heart and issued a letter ordering the dissolution of the Ku Klux Klan and the destruction of its costumes. He then withdrew from the organization. In the last years of his life, Forrest publicly denounced the Klan, insisted he had never been a member, and made a public speech in favor of racial harmony.
Tennessee governors must sign six proclamations throughout the year designating the following days of special observance: Robert E. Lee Day (January 19), Abraham Lincoln Day (February 12), Andrew Jackson Day (March 15), Confederate Decoration Day (June 3), Nathan Bedford Forrest Day (July 13) and Veterans’ Day (November 11). The law encourages the governor to invite the public to observe each day in schools and churches.
Meanwhile, State Representative London Lamar is sponsoring a bill this year to remove the Forrest Day designation. Lawmakers have debated for years on possibly moving the bust of Forrest that has sat inside the Tennessee Statehouse for decades. A state commission is scheduled to meet next month to address the bust.