Gov. Bill Lee has proclaimed Saturday, July 13, Nathan Bedford Forrest Day in Tennessee despite controversy over Forrest being an early Ku Klux Klan leader. Photo courtesy of the Office of the Governor.
July 13 (UPI) -- Gov. Bill Lee proclaimed July 13 Nathan Bedford Forrest Day in Tennessee, honoring the former Civil War Confederate general, slave trader and early KKK leader.
The declaration describes Forrest, who was born in Chapel Hill, Tennessee, on July 13, 1821, only as a "recognized military figure in American history and a native Tennessean."
The History Channel notes, however, that Forrest has also been known for controversial actions including his involvement in the Battle of Fort Pillow in April 1864, when his troops massacred black soldiers following a Union surrender. After the Civil War, Forrest worked as a planter, railroad president, and served as the first grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. He died at age 56.
Forrest's bust is on display in the state's capitol.
Lee signed the proclamation Wednesday to honor him with a July 13 Forrest Day proclamation, although Veterans for Peace and some Democratic house members have spoken out against the move to honor the early KKK leader.
Nathan Bedford Forrest Day has been observed for nearly 50 years.
"To do this again, to honor Nathan Bedford Forrest again with a day is just saying, guess what, if you're a person of color we don't care about you," said Jim Wohlgemuth with Veterans for Peace.
The international organization of military veterans, their family members and allies, dedicated to "healing the wounds of war," according to its website, has also opposed the bust of Forrest being on display in the state's capitol, pushing a petition for two years to have it removed from the capitol.
"How can you be a person of humanity, how and then support that statue, support a day when he was the head of the KKK, how can you do that," Wohlgemuth said.
Rep. Vincent Dixie, a Democratic House member, D-Nashville, was also appalled by 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. "This is a reminder of the painful and hurtful, of the crimes that were committed against black people."
Lee defended signing of the proclamation, as state law requires him, like governors before him, to issue proclamations of six separate days of special observation, including three related to the Confederacy.
Under state law, governors are also requires to issue proclamations for Jan. 19 as Robert E. Lee Day, honoring him as the commander of the Confederate Army; and June 3, Confederate President Jefferson Davis' birthday, as Confederate Decoration Day, also known as Confederate Memorial Day.
"I signed the bill because the law requires that I do that, and I haven't looked at changing that law," Lee said.
He has also opposed efforts to remove the Forrest bust from its current location, saying he believes it would be a "mistake to whitewash history."
Lee recently told reporters that he would be open to adding historical context about the Forrest bust, but no action has been taken.