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TN Proclamation Law Aimed at Keeping “Memory of the Confederacy Alive”

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Tennessee's state Capitol building in Nashville, where a bust of Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest is on display. (Adobe Stock)
Tennessee's state Capitol building in Nashville, where a bust of Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest is on display. (Adobe Stock)
August 5, 2019

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Gov. Bill Lee's recent signing of a proclamation making July 13 Nathan Bedford Forrest Day, in observance of the Confederate general and early Ku Klux Klan leader, has many people wondering why these decrees are on the books in the first place.

Vanderbilt University history professor Richard Blackett said these kinds of laws aren't as old as many people think.

"I think many of these sorts of laws were passed in response to the successes of the civil rights movement,” Blackett said. “And Nashville is at the center of the agitation over civil rights, and to a large extent is responsible for many of the successes achieved by the civil rights movement."

The law mandating governors declare proclamations for days honoring military figures didn't become law until 1969. While Gov. Lee has said he's willing to reconsider the law, Blackett said he thinks it will be extremely difficult for Tennessee legislators to disentangle themselves from the proclamations law and similar legislation.

Blackett pointed out that other designated observance days all honor leaders of the Confederacy. He said historians recognize and understand this type of legislation is more about cultural identity and memory than it is about Tennessee history.

"One is the recognition of Bedford Forrest, the other is a recognition of Robert E. Lee, and the third is what is known as Confederate Memorial Day, sometimes known as Jefferson Davis's birthday. Only Bedford Forrest is a Tennessean,” he said. “So what this law is meant to do is to keep alive the memory of the Confederacy."

A bust of Forrest continues to be displayed inside the state Capitol.

Nadia Ramlagan, Public News Service - TN