Monday, January 21, 2008

Remember Lee-Jackson-King Day?

Today's post is devoted to the history of the now-defunct holiday observed in the fine state of Virginia throughout my grade-school days: Lee-Jackson-King Day! As the hyphenation (which, in my mind's eye, I can still see squashed onto the school lunch menu in smudgy Xeroxed 8 or 9 pt all-caps Courier) suggests, this unique invention of the Old Dominion honored the birthdays of Civil War generals Robert E. Lee (January 19, 1807) and Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson (January 21, 1824), and Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. (January 15, 1929) all in one go. How did this happen? From Wikipedia:

Robert E. Lee's birthday has been celebrated as a Virginia holiday since 1889. In 1904, the legislature added the birthday of Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson to the holiday, and Lee-Jackson Day was born. In 1983, President Ronald Reagan approved an Act of Congress declaring January 15 to be a national holiday in honor of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. Since 1978, Virginia had celebrated King's birthday in conjunction with New Year's Day. To align with the federal holiday, the Virginia legislature simply combined King's celebration with the existing Lee-Jackson holiday.

In 2001 -- more than a decade after Virginia elected the country's first black governor -- state legislature did away with the three-way celebration, relegating Lee-Jackson day to the Friday before Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. In 2007, the state formally expressed "profound regret" for Virginia's role in the slave trade. Today? It seems the observation of MLK Day is alive and well in Virginia. As is the observation of Lee-Jackson Day. Separate but no less problematic.

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