virginia & lee-jackson-king day
January 18, 2004 01:20 PM

This is only the fourth year the state has celebrated Martin Luther King Day. For a couple of years before and several years after the institution of the federal holiday, Virginians combined it with Lee-Jackson Day, celebrating Confederate generals. Now, there's the Confederate holiday (not observed with a day off) the Friday before or after, and there are fewer people in gray [unless it's blue, I can never remember; they look sortof slate blue] uniforms semi-reenacting around the monuments.

Virginia's wacky history with Lee-Jackson-King day is less about racism (as might be implied by combining it with the longer standing holiday for the Confederates) than it is about defending causes. Most people assume, for instance, that Virginia was all Arizona-like about the MLK holiday and crammed the other celebration in with it to be less cooperative and more statesrightsey. But the Confederate thing started shortly after the Civil War, and Virginia waffled about how to celebrate King for years before the federal holiday was implemented. First, it was New Year's Day, then it was moved later in the month. The coincidence of Lee-Jackson Day and MLK Day didn't strike the state legislature as particularly ironic in the late 70s/early 80s when it was first implemented.

To people who haven't spent serious time in southern states, it's probably odd to imagine that a civil rights leader and Civil War generals could be celebrated simultaneously. For many white, traditional southerners, Lee and Jackson represent a kind of historical glory and willingness to take a stand. King represents the same thing - to blacks and most whites, despite all the racial conflict around segregation earlier in the century. All of them are southern heroes after a fashion.

Of course, ultimately, most Virginians came to see that the history of the Confederacy is to dodgy, too grey to be celebrated along with civil rights (though there were plenty of racially-fuelled debates along the way). But a lot of southerners still do the whole Lee-Jackson thing. Some of them are, honestly, creepy fucking racists. But some of them see the generals as icons of independence, history and a time when Virginia was an industrial and cultural center it hasn't been since.

TrackBack : in generally political stuff « michael moore's celebrity candidate endorsement | Main | all people are sexy, just not like you think »
your wicked thoughts

In a wonderful twist of historic irony we have Lee, Jackson, & King celebrated at the same time. While many smear & demonize all things Southern & all things Confederate, it is worth noting htat Lee & Jackson opposed the institution of slavery.

In an 1856 letter to President Pierce Lee stated that "there are few, I believe, in this enlightened age, who will not acknowledge that slavery as an institution is a moral and political evil. Their emancipation will sooner result from the mild and melting influences of Christianity than from the storm and tempest of fiery controversy. This influence, though slow, is sure".

Virginia didn't seceed until after Lincoln called an Army to invade the cotton states. In a letter to his daughter, Lee wrote “With all my devotion to the Union and the feeling of loyalty and duty of an American citizen, I have not been able to make up my mind to raise my hand against my relatives, my children, my home. I have therefore resigned my commission in the Army, and save in defense of my native State, with the sincere hope that my poor services may never be needed, I hope I may never be called on to draw my sword.”

After the war Lee said “all the South has ever desired was that the Union, as established by our Forefathers, should be preserved and that the government, as originally organized, should be administered in purity and truth” and that “Had I known what use those people would make of their victory, there would have been no surrender at Appomattox…I would have preferred to die beside my men, my sword in my good right hand."

Jackson held similar views towards the institution of slavery. This incredibly law-abiding man broke the law every Sunday by teaching slaves and free blacks how to read. In 1855, he spearheaded the effort to hold classes every Sunday at 3:00 in Lexington, Virginia’s Presbyterian Church. Historian Dr. James Robertson notes that, “In Jackson’s mind, slaves were children of God placed in subordinate situations for reasons only the Creator could explain. Helping them was a missionary effort for Jackson. Their souls had to be saved. Although Jackson could not alter the social status of slaves, he could and did display Christian decency to those whose lot it was to be in bondage…he was emphatically the black man’s friend." In fact, after the Battle of Manassas, Jackson realized he forgot to send his offering to the black school. Expecting news of the war, worshipers at the church opened Jackson’s letter only to read, “In my tent last night, after a fatiguing day's service, I remembered that I failed to send a contribution for our colored Sunday school. Enclosed you will find a check for that object, which please acknowledge at your earliest convenience and oblige yours faithfully.”

Historian R.G. Williams summarized that “General Stonewall Jackson was, without question, one of the greatest generals America ever produced. He was fearless in battle and his legendary ‘Valley Campaign’ fought in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia is still studied to this day. But more than that, he was a devout Christian and a lover of all good men – regardless of their color. Southerners and lovers of truth should do everything possible to educate future generations about the truth of our history, especially when it comes to the heroes of our faith and of our beloved Southland. Only in truth can we worship the Creator of all men. “

these are the thoughts of Mike on January 11, 2005 08:00 AM

please note that your IP address is logged when comments are posted, and comment abuse including spam will be investigated and reported to your internet service provider.

in this section
miss anything? (monthly)
artsy stuff
books & tv & internet stuff
fat & health stuff
feministy stuff
generally political stuff
nerdy & silly stuff
sexually liberated stuff
vaguely personal stuff
work & money stuff
i have a livejournal, too
more info
email me
design by seven ten


about the site wicked thoughts edge of the season arts links we have brains