Former Texan political rivals Ted Cruz and Beto O’Rourke found common ground on Friday when they both condemned the long-standing law in Tennessee celebrating Nathan Bedford Forrest, a dead Confederate Army general and grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee signed a proclamation on Friday that marks this Saturday as Nathan Bedford Forrest Day across the state. The proclamation marks out six days of special observance that the governor of Tennessee is required by law to sign each year. Other holidays protected by Tennessee state code are Confederate Decoration Day, Robert E. Lee Day, Veteran’s Day, Memorial Day, Abraham Lincoln Day, and Andrew Jackson Day.
Cruz expressed his disagreement that such a holiday honoring Forrest should continue to be observed. He tweeted, “This is WRONG. Nathan Bedford Forrest was a Confederate general & a delegate to the 1868 Democratic Convention. He was also a slave trader & the 1st Grand Wizard of the KKK. Tennessee should not have an official day (tomorrow) honoring him. Change the law.”
A short time later, Democratic presidential candidate and former Senate rival to Cruz, Beto O’Rourke, agreed. Sharing Cruz’s original tweet, O’Rourke said simply, “I agree. Change the law.”
Forrest, who served as a general for the Confederacy during the Civil War, has long been a controversial historical figure. He has been credited for ordering the notorious massacre following the Battle of Fort Pillow, in which Confederate soldiers killed Union troops who were mostly black and had already surrendered. Following the war, he became known for his leadership in the early days of the Ku Klux Klan, eventually becoming the organization’s first grand wizard.
The governor does not have the unilateral power to reject the holiday, though many called for Lee to condemn the holiday yesterday by not signing the proclamation. Many Tennesseans have also lobbied to have a bust of Forrest removed from the state capitol building.
In response to backlash over Friday’s proclamation, the office of the governor said in a statement, “To meet our legal obligation, Gov. Lee signed the same proclamation that has been signed in years past,” the representative said. “To be clear, a new law has not been signed – it’s a proclamation in accordance with the existing law that the governor must follow.”