“Nathan Bedford Forrest Day” divides Tennesseans, just like the Capitol’s bust of the Confederate General

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (localmemphis.com) – Tennessee lawmakers are once again confronting the controversial legacy of Confederate Civil War General Nathan Bedford Forrest with a day proclaimed in his honor.

A spokesperson for Governor Bill Lee says an old statute in the Tennessee Code requires him to sign a proclamation making Saturday July 13th “Nathan Bedford Forrest Day” in Tennessee, stressing “just like previous governors.”

Forrest was renowned for his tactics during the Civil War, but reviled as a slave trader before the conflict and later as an early leader of the Ku Klux Klan.

“The issue always comes up that it’s the law and they are required to sign it,” says Nashville Rep. Harold Love.

The African-American lawmaker knows about the requirement, which comes from a 1931 statute requiring the governor to sign a proclamation for days of “special observance.” Along with “Nathan Bedford Forrest Day,” the “special observance” includes two other days honoring the Confederacy and three days honoring Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Jackson, and “Veterans.” 

Tennessee Code 15-2-101 specifically says:

“Each year it is the duty of the governor of this state to proclaim the following as days of special observance: January 19, “Robert E. Lee Day”; February 12, “Abraham Lincoln Day”; March 15, “Andrew Jackson Day”; June 3, “Memorial Day” or “Confederate Decoration Day”; July 13, “Nathan Bedford Forrest Day”; and November 11, “Veterans’ Day.” The governor shall invite the people of this state to observe the days in schools, churches, and other suitable places with appropriate ceremonies expressive of the public sentiment befitting the anniversary of such dates.”

Rep. Love has hoped before and hopes again there could be changes to the old law.

“I think, to many of us who know this has happened, have often from time to time wondered at what point would a governor ask us to assist in helping change the law,” he told WKRN on Friday.

While Governor Lee signed the proclamation making July 13th Nathan Bedford Forrest Day, a spokesperson for the governor says, “he is not currently looking at changing it, but could take a look in the future.”

All this comes in the wake of another year of protests and calls to remove a bust of Forrest from the second floor of the Tennessee State Capitol that sits between the chambers of the House and Senate. Lee’s successor Bill Haslam led an effort in his second term to remove the Forrest bust, but the matter failed by one vote in its first step before a state body which, under a 2013 law, oversees changes to monuments and memorials on public property. 

Some lawmakers and protestors have suggested the Forrest bust could be moved to the new state museum in Nashville, but Governor Lee has not supported those efforts. Lee has indicated a willingness to potentially place a plaque offering context about Forrest near the Capitol Hill bust. 

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