Governor says he will work to change law on controversial Forrest Day proclamation

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Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee said Monday he is working to change the law that he says forced him to sign a proclamation declaring July 13 as Nathan Bedford Forrest Day.

Lee had faced significant backlash from sources including Memphis Democratic Rep. Steve Cohen and Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz.

Lee told reporters last week that a 1969 state law required him to sign the declaration, and that he had not looked at changing that law.

But Monday, he said he would work to make changes.

“While it is my job as governor to enforce the law, I want Tennesseans to know where my heart is on this issue. Our state’s history is rich, complex and in some cases painful. With this in mind, I will be working to change this law,” the governor wrote in a tweet.

Forrest, a Confederate general who was born in West Tennessee and spent much of his career as a slave trader in Memphis, was revered as a military leader, but also was an early leader of the Ku Klux Klan.

In 2017, Memphis city leaders removed the statue atop Forrest’s grave site and removed his name from the public park in which it sat.

The Memphis branch of the NAACP sent a statement Monday condemning the declaration, saying it “puts another stain on Tennessee.”

“This action was an affront to all Tennesseans, especially those of color, those of non-Protestant religious faiths, those of the LGBTQ community, and those who believe in equality and human rights,” the group said. “One of the founders of the Ku Klux Klan and a slave trader should not be recognized in this manner.

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