POLITICS
07/16/2019 19:55 EDT

Tennessee Governor Now Says He'll Work To Change Law Honoring KKK Grand Wizard

Last week, Bill Lee said he hadn’t “looked at changing" a law to declare an annual Nathan Bedford Forrest Day. Now he says he's considering action.

Gov. Bill Lee (R) said he “will be working to change” a Tennessee law requiring the state to honor a Confederate general who traded slaves and was the first grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.

Last week, Lee signed a proclamation declaring Saturday Nathan Bedford Forrest Day. According to Tennessee’s code on days of recognition, the proclamation must be issued each year for every July 13.

Though Lee told The Tennesseean on Thursday that he hadn’t “looked at changing that law,” it appears he is now considering action.

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

In an interview earlier that day with local ABC affiliate WKRN-TV, Lee acknowledged that parts of Forrest’s life are “part of painful history and why I, we, need to look at changing law, and I will work with legislators to do that.”

Despite Forrest’s embrace of white supremacy, the proclamation Lee recently signed applauded him as “a recognized military figure in American history and a native Tennessean.”

The governor’s apparent about-face comes after criticism from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who spoke out against the proclamation in a tweet, calling it “WRONG” and telling Lee, “Change the law.”

Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) also condemned the recognition of Forrest, warning Lee that, rather than bringing his state “into the 21st century,” he was “backsliding into the 19th.”

In a statement released Tuesday, Heidi Beirich of the Southern Poverty Law Center, an Alabama-based nonprofit advocating for civil rights, said Lee needed to do more than just talk.

“It is important to change the Tennessee state law that requires the governor to issue proclamations for three days of special observation honoring the Confederacy,” she said. “But lawmakers can’t just talk about undoing laws that honor the Confederacy, they must act ― and we must hold them accountable if they don’t.”