The Virginia legislature moved further toward ridding the state of a holiday dedicated to two white men who have historically represented the Southern confederacy and consequently the enslavement of Black people.
On Thursday, the state house passed HB 108, a bill which proposes to remove Lee-Jackson day, traditionally observed January 17, as a Virginia holiday. Instead, Election Day would become a state holiday honored on the Tuesday following the first Monday in November.
The Virginia state senate passed a bill akin to the house measure on Jan. 21. Both legislative chambers are majority Democrat.
“I don’t think there’s any secret that it’s in honor of two individuals who fought to prolong slavery which is not a proud aspect of Virginia’s history,” said Gov. Graham Norton in comments about the bill last month, according to WAMU in Washington D.C.
Both Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson are known today for their military roles in pushing the Confederate’s most audacious cause -- slavery. Jackson died of pneumonia in 1863 several days after accidentally being fired on by his own troops. Lee surrendered along with his 28,000 troops at Appomatox, Va., in 1865 to Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, ending the Civil War.
The holiday’s roots go back more than a century. In 1890, the Virginia General Assembly voted to designate a holiday honoring Lee and then the chamber elected in 1904 to add Jackson, making it Lee-Jackson Day.
Fast forward to 1984, the Virginia legislature votes to approve the combining of that holiday with the federal holiday celebrating the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to create a Lee-Jackson-King Day. Criticism immediately ensued over the senisitivity and intelligence of a day commemorating the slain champion of Civil Rights along with two White men who fought to continue the institution of slavery.
In 2000, reason prevailed when then-Gov. Jim Gilmore proposed that the two days be separated and King’s holiday would be celebrated on the third Monday in January and Lee-Jackson Day would be moved to the Friday before.
Since that time, Lee-Jackson Day has waned in popularity. Several areas have opted not to celebrate it at all, including Fairfax, Arlington and Loudoun counties and also the cities Fredericksburg, Charlottesville and the state capital of Richmond, WAMU reported.
However, some municipalities have continued the tradition and state government offices in Virginia continue to close on that day.
Still, there have been voices that have loudly protested the very existence of the holiday. Last year, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, who is African American, was the single dissenter during a state senate celebration of Lee’s birthday.
“I believe there are certain people in history we should honor that way in the Senate . . . and I don’t believe that he is one of them,” Fairfax told The Washington Post at the time. “I think it’s very divisive to do what was done there, particularly in light of the history that we’re now commemorating — 400 years since the first enslaved Africans came to the commonwealth of Virginia and to do that in this year in particular was very hurtful to a lot of people.”
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