While most state offices in Virginia closed last Friday for a state holiday celebrating Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, a growing number of cities and counties are choosing not to recognize it.
Cities including Blacksburg (as of 2017) and Charlottesville (2016), as well as Lynchburg, Norfolk, Newport News, and Hampton do not observe Lee-Jackson Day, and Richmond does not shut down its city government for the holiday. A number of counties, including Fairfax, Arlington and Loudoun, have also rejected the holiday.
Virginia’s General Assembly designated January 19, Lee’s birthday, as a holiday in 1890, the Washington Post reports. In 1904, the Assembly added Jackson, who was born January 21, to the holiday.
In 1978, the Assembly created a state holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on January 1; six years later, they made the third Monday in January Lee-Jackson-King Day to honor “the defenders of causes.”
Martin Luther King Day was first observed as a federal holiday in 1986, but the Assembly did not separate Lee-Jackson Day from the King holiday until 2000.
Mississippi and Alabama still honor Lee and King on the same holiday. They are the last remaining states to do so, after Arkansas lawmakers voted last year to honor Lee on a separate day that was not a state holiday.
A House bill filed this month in Mississippi would separate the holidays, keeping King Day on the third Monday in January and moving Lee’s holiday to the fourth Monday in January. Senator Derrick Simmons of Greenville told the Clarion Ledger he will introduce a similar bill in the Senate. “It’s really offensive to honor Martin Luther King Jr. and what he stood for [simultaneously] with what Robert E. Lee stood for,” he said.
Alabama last year enacted a new law to prevent cities and counties from addressing racially insensitive memorials, symbols, and monuments by prohibiting the “relocation, removal, alteration, renaming, or other disturbance of” any Confederate or other monument that is at least 40 years old. Birmingham Representative Juandalynn Givan prefiled a bill to repeal the act after the Attorney General sued the City of Birmingham for covering up a Confederate monument in a city park last fall.
In Virginia, a bill to end Lee-Jackson Day as a state holiday (and instead make Election Day a holiday) was introduced in 2016, but was voted down on party lines. Its sponsor, then-state senator A. Donald McEachin, told the Post he would not be surprised to see the General Assembly revisit the issue, and an official in the incoming administration of Governor-elect Ralph Northam said he would sign such legislation if the Assembly approved it.