KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — Critics are condemning Governor Bill Lee's signing of an annual proclamation recognizing Nathan Bedford Forrest Day in Tennessee.
Tennessee law requires the governor to sign the document, declaring July 13 a day to honor the Confederate general.
The backlash has been widespread--including a tweet from Texas Republican senator Ted Cruz and a piece in the Washington Post.
Lee tweeted Monday evening that he would work to change the law.
"While it is my job as governor to enforce the law, I want Tennesseans to know where my heart is on this issue," Lee said. "Our state’s history is rich, complex and in some cases painful. With this in mind, I will be working to change this law."
That law is Tennessee Code 15-2-101 that 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', June 3, 'Memorial Day' or 'Confederate Decoration Day' and July 13, 'Nathan Bedford Forrest Day,'... among others.
Democratic State Rep. Gloria Johnson of Knoxville said she would support a law that would remove the governor's obligation to sign the Forrest Day proclamation.
"We're saying be careful who you put in a place of honor," Johnson said. "Racism is not a value of the majority of Tennesseans, and our state needs to put that face forward. Because it's an amazingly wonderful state, great people who love their community, and they love everyone in their community."
She said Nashville Democratic Sen. Jeff Yarbro has already taken early steps in creating a bill to change the law.
Republican Sen. Richard Briggs of Knoxville said he thought that proposed bill might be reasonable, but he hasn't seen it yet.
He wants Tennesseans to consider that while Forrest was a member of the Ku Klux Klan at one point, he later renounced the group.
"At the time, it was in 1875 he gave a speech for what was the predecessor for what was the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, where he said we're born of the same Earth, we breathe the same air," Briggs said. "He encouraged them to get out, register to vote. He encouraged them to vote."
Johnson thinks Yarbro's efforts to change the law would have bipartisan support.
Briggs said he would have to take a closer look at the bill, should it come to the floor.