A day to remember America’s civil rights hero

In Virginia, a four-day holiday supports Confederate generals on one end and civil right leader Dr. Martin Luther King on the other. Why?
King speaking at the Washington Memorial at the March on Washington in 1963.

Preliminary reports say about 22,000 gun fanciers showed up at the Virginia State Capital Monday for their planned “armed” protest of new gun control laws under consideration by the General Assembly.

Capitol police say about 7,000 protested without arms in Capitol Square, where Gov. Ralph Northam’s declaration of an emergency prohibited possession of a gun while another 15,000 paraded about the outer areas with their AR-15s, AK-47s, and other military-style weapons.

Monday was “lobby day” at the State Capital where legislators ignore the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday and meet with groups who want to lobby on specific issues. Most groups who wanted nothing to do with guns stayed home on this holiday. So did the gun control advocates. They decided that lobbying on a day with a sideshow on the streets was not a good idea.

This weekend is normally also part of a four-day holiday for many state and local government workers who also recognized Lee-Jackson on Friday. That’s a celebration of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and Gen. Stonewall Jackson. This may be the final shot for Lee and Jackson to have holidays to share with Dr. King. The new Democratic majority of the General Assembly is looking to either change it or do away with their holidays altogether.

For the most part, Lee-Jackson Day gives Rebel die-hards in the Old Dominion a chance to wave the confederate Stars and Bars and claim that it is about “Southern heritage” instead of a relic of a time of slavery, racism, and bigotry.

Virginia took too many years to recognize the federal “Martin Luther King Day.” For too long, the Old Dominion “merged” it with Lee-Jackson Day for 17 years before giving the day its own recognition but still held on the state Lee-Jackson Day.

The federal government, of course, does not recognize a day dedicated to two Southern generals who fought against our nation. Banks stay open. So does the stock market.

Floyd County public schools closed today for the King holiday, but not for Lee-Jackson Day.

As a native-born Southerner, I have never recognized any holiday named for a Confederate general or Jefferson Davis, the Confederate presidency.  The elementary school years spent in Prince Edward County, where a racist board of supervisors and school board closed the public schools to prevent integration convinced me that such bigoted actions were final, pathetic stunts by the side who, thankfully, lost the civil war.

On August 28, 1963, as a student at Floyd County High School, I drove m 1957 Ford on what was then a seven-hours plus drive to Washington, DC, to see and photograph Dr. King’s “I have a dream” speech on the National Mall in Washington. In 1968, when an assassin’s bullet stock King down in Memphis, I covered protests on the streets as a reporter for The Roanoke Times.

A year later, I drove to Alton, IL, just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis to start a new job as a reporter and photographer there. Alton was the birthplace of James Earl Ray, the man convicted of killing King. While there, I tracked down the house where he was born and found it was occupied by an African-American couple who did not know their home once housed the killer of the most famous civil rights leader in America.

Alton also housed the largest prison for the Union Army to house Confederate soldiers held as prisoners of war.

More reasons to remember the war and the shame of racism in this nation.

 

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