NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee signed a proclamation making Saturday, July 13, Nathan Bedford Forrest Day in the state.
Forrest was a Civil War Confederate General, slave trader and an early KKK leader.
"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," said Jim Wohlgemuth, with Veterans for Peace.
For two years, Wohlgemuth and Veterans for Peace have been pushing a petition to remove a bust of Forrest from the Tennessee Capitol.
"To (declare Forrest Day) 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," Wohlgemuth said.
Nathan Bedford Forrest Day has been observed in the state for nearly 50 years. The proclamation is causing controversy among some Democrat members of Tennessee House of Representatives.
"This a reminder of the painful and hurtful of the crimes that were committed against black people," Rep. Vincent Dixie (D-Nashville) said.
Dixie says like many others he didn't know July 13 was Nathan Bedford Forrest Day in Tennessee. Dixie says this was the wrong move on the Governor's part.
"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.
"Tennessee governors are required by statute to issue a series of proclamations each year, including Nathan Bedford Forrest Day. The proclamation that was issued complies with this obligation and is in keeping with prior years," said Laine Arnold, a spokesperson for Lee.
Dixie says it's time to take a more in-depth look at the law.
"I plan on working with legislators to correct this issue; If the governor is sincere about really being the governor for all Tennesseans and not some Tennesseans then he would get behind me, and do the right thing," Dixie said.
The proclamation is not limited to Lee. Tennessee law mandates that the Governor must issue proclamations for six state holidays each year, including days for Nathan Bedford Forrest and Robert E. Lee. It has been a state law since 1971.
Tennessee Code Annotated 15-2-101. Additional special observance days.
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 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.
Forrest's bust is on display in the state capitol, and there is a statue of him located on private property in plain sight of drivers on Interstate 65 in Nashville. Both monuments have been the target of harsh scrutiny and controversy.