Tennessee governor signs proclamation honoring early KKK leader, sparking backlash

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee signed a proclamation declaring Saturday "Nathan Bedford Forrest Day," in honor of the Confederate Army general who was a slave trader and an early member of the Ku Klux Klan.

NASHVILLE — Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee signed a proclamation declaring Saturday, July 13 “Nathan Bedford Forrest Day,” in honor of the Confederate Army general who was a slave trader and an early member of the Ku Klux Klan.

Under Tennessee law, governors are required to proclaim six dates as “days of special observance” including July 13 as “Nathan Bedford Forrest Day,” June 3 as “Memorial Day,” or “Confederate Decoration Day,” and Jan. 19 as “Robert E. Lee Day.”

The Republican governor signed the proclamation on Wednesday, July 10.

“Nathan Bedford Forrest is a recognized military figure in American history and a native Tennessean,” the proclamation said.

Lee told The Tennessean Thursday that he signed the bill “because the law requires that I do that, and I haven’t looked at changing that law.”

He declined to say whether he thought the state law should be changed, the Tennessean reported.

“I haven’t even looked at that law, other than knowing I needed to comply with it, so that’s what I did,” Lee told the newspaper. “When we look at the law, then we’ll see.”

CNN reached out to the governor’s office for comment.

The backlash to the proclamation was bipartisan.

“This is WRONG,” Sen. Ted Cruz tweeted. “Nathan Bedford Forrest was a Confederate general & a delegate to the 1868 Democratic Convention. He was also a slave trader & the 1st Grand Wizard of the KKK.”

The Texas Republican argued that Tennessee should not have an official day honoring Forrest, and called on the state to change the law.

Rep. Steve Cohen of Tennessee echoed Cruz on Twitter.

“We should not be honoring Nathan Bedford Forrest, the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, and the perpetrator of the massacre at Fort Pillow,” the Democratic congressman said on Twitter. “Gov. Lee should be bringing #Tennessee into the 21st century, not backsliding into the 19th.”

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