Tennessee set to honor former KKK leader in 5 days

Bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest at the Tennessee State Capitol

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – The state of Tennessee has been honoring Nathan Bedford Forrest on July 13 for 44 years.

According to Tennessee Code Annotated 15-2-101, it’s the duty of the governor to proclaim several state holidays each year, meaning a new proclamation must be signed annually to continue observing those days.

There are six of these special observance days in Tennessee, one of which is for the one-time KKK leader and was instated in 1971.

News 2 learned this year’s proclamation was signed by Governor Bill Haslam on June 2, just two weeks prior to the mass shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, that claimed the lives of nine black church goers. Click here to see the proclamation.

The tragedy instigated a national conversation surrounding the meaning and use of emblems with a deep-seated relationship to race-related issues in the United States due to the alleged gunman’s reported affiliation with white supremacy.

Questions have since been raised in Tennessee surrounding monuments erected in Forrest’s honor, including a large statue off Interstate 65 near Harding Place and a bust that currently sits in the Capitol.

Gov. Haslam was asked about removing the bust two weeks before he signed the proclamation reinstating Nathan Bedford Forrest Day. He said, “Forrest would not be my choice of one of the Tennesseans that we honor.”

Still he signed the proclamation, and according to the governor’s press secretary, Dave Smith, Haslam had to sign it “as per the statute.”

Rep. Raumesh Akbari, the vice chair of the Tennessee Black Caucus, said she believes we do need to be consistent and recognize that Forrest’s history has been polarizing to so many.

“As far as doing something that might publicly negatively impact or, I guess, insult a good portion of the population in Tennessee, I do think that that’s something that we should reserve a proclamation for someone else,” she explained.

News 2 asked the governor’s press secretary if the governor wants to reevaluate the statue now but did not get a response.

Changing it would require an act from the state legislature.

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