Robert E. Lee Day Is One Of Several Alabama Holidays That Honor Confederate History — And Need To Go

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley did not want his state to be caught in the recent debates over the Confederate flag. The Republican governor stayed silent while the national media urged South Carolina lawmakers to remove the Confederate flag from state buildings. Without fanfare, or even an announcement of his decision, the Republican governor quietly exercised his authority on Wednesday and ordered four Confederate flags to be removed from Alabama monuments in front of the capital building. He could do so because, unlike South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, Bentley had been granted the authority to act on his own by the state constitution. But that news was quickly followed by a new question: What about Robert E. Lee Day?

Yes, you read that right. Every January, Alabama businesses, schools, and state facilities honor the birthday of Confederate general Robert E. Lee. Alabama has celebrated Lee’s birthday since the 1800s, mainly to make a statement against the federal government after losing the Civil War. In fact, several Southern states pay tribute to Lee on his birthday. But, in a particularly nasty snub to the civil rights movement, Alabama, Arkansas, and Mississippi choose to observe the holiday on the same day as Martin Luther King Jr Day—the third Monday in January. At least Georgia, Florida, and Virginia have the decency to separate the two.

The reasoning by lawmakers is that since Lee’s and King’s birthdays both fall in January, combining them avoids having two state holidays in the same month. But, linking celebrations of a Civil War general and a civil rights leader sends an insensitive, racially divisive message to its citizens and the rest of the country. There are other ways to teach Civil War history than to pay tribute to someone who led Confederate soldiers in a war against the United States.

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While the news that the Confederate flag will no longer fly over the Alabama capital is welcome, the state holiday calendar is still crammed with observances of Confederate history.

Robert E. Lee/Martin Luther King Day, 3rd Monday in January

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Lee is celebrated by Confederate historians as an honorable man who fought well against the North, conveniently omitting the fact that Lee led raids to kidnap free Blacks and sell them back into slavery or the brutal treatment of enslaved Blacks that Lee oversaw (details, I guess).

Confederate Memorial Day, April 27

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Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia mark the surrender of Confederate General Joseph Johnston and his army with a legal holiday on the last Monday in April. While cities across the South hold ceremonies in memory of the fallen Confederate soldiers, many historically black colleges and universities host events to debunk myths around the Civil War.

Jefferson Davis Day, June 1

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Alabama is the last state in the nation to set aside a day solely to celebrate the birthday of the president of the Confederacy. Florida, Tennessee, and Kentucky have unofficial holidays to honor Davis, while Mississippi and Texas combine the observance with other holidays.

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