Tennessee Gov. Lee to tackle Confederate Gen. Forrest proclamation law before moving bust from state Capitol

Tennessee State Troopers stand near a bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest after protesters covered it and placed signs in front of it Monday, Aug. 14, 2017, in Nashville, Tenn. Protesters called for the removal of the bust, which is displayed in the hallway outside the House and Senate chambers. Violence in Virginia this weekend has given rise to a new wave of efforts to remove or relocate Confederate monuments. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
photo In his State of the State address, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee proposed a voucher program for public school districts with three or more schools ranked in the bottom 10 percent of schools across the state.

NASHVILLE - Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee says he intends to focus on eliminating a current state law that requires him to sign a proclamation honoring controversial Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest before trying to remove Forrest's bust from its honored perch in the state Capitol.

"I said that we would work first of all on the law about the proclamation, and we will do that with the Legislature and encourage them to make a change there," Lee told reporters Tuesday.

A state law on the books since 1969 requires governors to sign a proclamation declaring July 13 as "Nathan Bedford Forrest Day." Before that, it had been a state holiday, that law having passed in 1921, the centennial of Forrest's birth.

Since 1969, several Democratic and Republican governors have signed the proclamation with little fanfare. Lee, a Republican who became governor in January, has said he was surprised he had to sign it. In the midst of two years of protests over the bust of Forrest, a one-time slave trader who after the Civil War became "Grand Wizard" of the Ku Klux Klan, it generated national publicity this year.

"We need to have a broader conversation on the bust and we're doing just that," Lee said. "Yes, I will be talking with legislative leaders. But more than that, I'll be talking to folks in the community and others that have a real interest around that subject."

Afterward, Lee said, he hopes to "move forward with that."

Former Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican, recently said he was surprised to learn he had to sign the Forrest proclamation but was told by staffers it was the law. As governor, Haslam sought to have the Tennessee Historical Commission approve removal of Forrest's bust, only to be rebuffed.

Contact Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550. Follow on Twitter @AndySher1.