State honors King, Lee

January 14, 2016 in News

Governor, other leaders share thoughts on holiday

By Shanderia K. Posey

Editor

KingMLK-2016As the state prepares to honor civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. on Jan. 18, state and local leaders are weighing in on whether the King holiday should no longer be shared with Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

Mississippi is one of three states that sets asides the third Monday in January to honor King, whose birthday is Jan. 15,  and Lee, whose birthday is Jan. 19. The other states are Alabama and Arkansas.

Last week, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced that he wants lawmakers to approve a separate day for King and cease celebrating King and Lee on the same day.

Mississippi Sen. Hillman Frazier, District 27, was the primary author of legislation to recognize the King holiday in the state, which was signed into law March 20, 1987. Initially, legislation went to the House Appropriations Committee and stayed there four years. A filibuster forced lawmakers to finally make a decision on the bill.

“It took several years to pass. There was so much resistant. They finally gave in and accepted it,” said Frazier, who also noted that Mississippi was one of the first states to recognize the King holiday.

Resistance to having a King holiday is quite evident. The first attempt to honor King with a holiday happened four days after his murder when U.S. Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) introduced legislation in 1968. In 1983, Congress passed legislation for the King holiday, and President Ronald Reagan signed the bill Nov. 20, 1983.

As for separating the holidays in Mississippi, Frazier’s not so sure it would happen here.

“That’s going to be a real challenge in this Legislature, to move Robert E. Lee Day. So many folks still see Robert E. Lee as their hero. Some legislators hold him dear,” Frazier said.

Despite the dual holiday, Frazier emphasized the day is generally set aside as a day of service celebrating King and his efforts to liberate civil rights for all people in this country.

The day “is a big celebration for King,” he said. “Let them (Robert E. Lee supporters) have their private celebration. It’s not distracting from our celebration of Dr. King.”

In a statement emailed to The Mississippi Link, Clay Chandler, director of communications for Gov. Phil Bryant said, “Gov. Bryant would not necessarily be opposed to separating the holidays, but would be concerned about adding another day off for state government, as one of the reasons for combining them was to save tax dollars.”

Frazier noted that eliminating cost by combining Robert E. Lee Day and Martin Luther King Day was a strong argument for getting the King holiday law passed years ago.

Georgia is an example of one state that has found a way to cease celebrating the two men on the same day. In recent years, Robert E. Lee Day was moved to the day after Thanksgiving in Georgia; however, now Georgia’s state calendar notes the day as simply a state holiday.

On the local level, Jackson Mayor Tony Yarber expressed his disagreement with honoring King and Lee simultaneously.

“There is absolutely no way in the world that leaders in the United States of America would be asking George Washington to share a holiday with Adolf Hitler. That’s how African Americans see a Robert E. Lee. He is our Adolf Hitler. He was one of the folks who led the charge on ensuring that African Americans remained enslaved. As far as I’m concerned it’s blasphemous,” Yarber said.

“We need to really look at … replacing that (holiday) with people who share our values. You’ve got good history, and you’ve got bad history. To celebrate Robert E. Lee is to glorify a part of our history that is dark. Part of our history that is quite frankly evil. There’s a way to acknowledge his contribution to history without glorifying him at the same time, so not only would I look to separate the days I would look to not celebrate him at all.”

Ward 4 Jackson City Councilman De’Keither Stamps also shared his thoughts on the issue.

“I believe everyone is entitled to their own heritage and history and customs. But I believe in the Black community ours should be left alone. If someone wants to take a day and celebrate Robert E. Lee, that’s for them. But as far as Martin Luther King, Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, we have to create safe places and spaces and times to celebrate our own history and legacy.”