Monday, January 21, 2008
Holiday: Martin Luther King and General Lee Share Holiday
The third Monday in January is recognized nationally as the birthday of Martin Luther King, but in Arkansas, Alabama and Mississippi, there is another man’s birthday being celebrated. General Lee, the leader of the Confederate Army during the Civil War shares his honorary birthday with Martin Luther King, spokesman for the Civil Rights Movement.
It may seem odd that the man who spoke out against racism would have to share his birthday with the man who led the south in a war advocating slavery; however, their actual birthdays really do fall quite close to one another (King’s birthday is Jan. 15 and Lee’s is on Jan. 19). What is more, Lee’s birthday was declared a memorial day long before King’s.
In 1947, Arkansas legislators named Lee’s birthday a legal holiday in honor of the general. It wasn’t until 1983 that King’s birthday was to receive recognition in the same way. In 1985, the two memorial days were combined and changed to the third Monday in January. This allowed workers to have the day off regardless of which man they celebrated rather than having to choose between the two, as was often the case previously.
The issue of the combined recognition has been rankling some people for many years. Dale Charles, president of the Arkansas chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 1997 felt that it is inappropriate to honor King and Lee on the same day. “Dr. King worked hard to unify the country,” he said. “I wouldn’t say General Lee would be in the same notion of Martin Luther King. He was a great general and all, but he didn’t come close to what Martin Luther King was about.”