Friday, January 12, 2007
Lee Jackson Day
Today is Lee Jackson Day. While some folks might have a problem with Virginia having a state holiday remembering two of Virginia’s most famous sons who fought for the Confederacy, the legacy of this date has been around for well over a hundred years.
The story of the day began in 1889 when Virginia decided to commemorate Robert E. Lee’s birthday, January 19. The person who passed this date into law was Fitzhugh Lee, nephew of Robert E. Lee and also governor of Virginia at the time. Like his uncle, Lee had served in the Confederate army as a general in the Army of Northern Virginia. Fitzhugh Lee would become one of many a string of Democrat governors in Virginia after Reconstruction.
In 1904, the decision was made to add Thomas Jonathon “Stonewall” Jackson to the day since his birthday was on January 21. This addition occurred under the watch of Andrew Jackson Montague.
In 1978, Virginia began to celebrate and remember Martin Luther King Jr. for his work in the Civil Rights movement. The problem that had occurred for Virginia, though, was when should the state remember the man. The decision was made to celebrate and remember Martin Luther King Jr. on New Year’s Day. The governor at the time was John Nichols Dalton.
In 1983, President Ronald Reagan approved an act by Congress which set January 15 as Martin Luther King Jr. Day. For Virginia, this date fell very close to Lee Jackson Day. As a result, it was decided to combine the two days together. This would occur during Chuck Robb’s tenure as governor. Needless to say, a number of lawmakers could not help but notice the contrast of having a single day celebrating both extremes of the spectrum when it came to southern history.
In 2000, Jim Gilmore separated the two holidays by moving Lee Jackson Day to the Friday before Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
What is really interesting to note is that this is the first time in recent memory that I can think of that MLK Day actually falls on the date Congress said it was to fall on. As far back as I can remember, MLK Day was always on the third Monday of January. In looking up the history behind the day, MLK Day certainly was met with a great deal of opposition. Jesse Helms had argued that King was not worthy of having a national holiday named after him citing King’s opposition to the Vietnam War and possible Communist leanings. After Congress showed an overwhelming support for a national holiday for King, President Reagan signed it into law. It wouldn’t be until 1986 for the nation to take hold of it, but Virginia still was able to lead the nation by having the holiday on the books first.
As for Lee Jackson Day, this seems to be a day which has pretty much fallen into obscurity for the people of Virginia. Interestingly enough though, not everyone seems to have forgotten it. The DMV hasn’t as its offices are closed in observance of the day. In addition to this, I know for a fact that it is impossible for a person to get a parking ticket on Lee Jackson Day in Alexandria. It is actually a law on the city books. While I am sure there are a few other laws pertaining to Lee Jackson Day throughout the state, we should use this date as a way to remember all of Virginia’s sons and daughters who have made an impact on our state’s history.
For better of for worse, the legacy of the Civil War in Virginia can be seen throughout the majority of the state. However a person may view the South and the Confederacy, it is still impossible for anyone to deny the valor of those who stepped onto the battlefield and were willing to stare into the face of death and refuse to blink.
Ensuring that we remember this date is something that is important to Virginia. By acknowledging this aspect of American and Southern history, we as a people will never forget the lessons of the past when it comes to government, equality, courage, valor, honor, dignity, and respect. So on this day, let us remember these words:
“In spite of failures which I lament, of errors which I now see and acknowledge, or of the present aspect of affairs, do I despair the future? The truth is this: the march of Providence is so slow, our desires so impatient, the work of progress is so immense, and our means of aiding it so feeble, the life of humanity is so long, that of the individual so brief, that we often see only the ebb of the advancing wave and are thus discouraged. It is history that teaches us to hope.”-Robert E. Lee
Posted by BDM at 12:15 AM