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Confederates don't deserve holiday

I'M ALL for holidays. Like most people, I enjoy receiving time off from work or school -- time to visit relatives, catch up on work, or simply sleep. But, alas, the University remains in session during most of the long weekends federal employees enjoy -- holidays that once offered me winter months full of four-day weeks.

So, since I wouldn't benefit anyway, I have no qualms about objecting to Gov. James S. Gilmore III's plan to re-create a state holiday honoring Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson.

In Virginia, the federally mandated Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, which falls on the third Monday in January, is called Lee-Jackson-King day. It celebrates the accomplishments of both the peaceful civil rights activist and the Southern leaders of the Civil War.

Lee's birthday, Jan. 19, has been celebrated for decades in Virginia, with Jackson commonly commemorated on that day as well. In 1984, King was first included in the holiday, which was fixed on the third Monday in January.

Gilmore's proposal calls for a Lee- Jackson holiday to be created on the Friday before King day. While Gilmore correctly states that King deserves his own holiday, Lee and Jackson should be eliminated from the holiday schedule and not granted a separate date.

Most Americans agree that King was a great man. He was the driving force behind the civil rights movement, and his powerful rhetoric united and inspired the black community to fight institutional racism.

By using King's technique of passive resistance in the often-violent South, blacks were able to gain sympathy for their plight and legislation guaranteeing their rights. Because King so positively influenced our nation, few would argue against establishing a holiday to honor him.

But generals Lee and Jackson have not had the same positive effect on the United States as King. In fact, some might argue that their goals, if realized, would have destroyed the United States we know today.

Certainly, they were native Virginians, and heroes to Virginians of their time. But they were champions of a cause that has not withstood the test of time: Our nation has spent more than 130 years combating the lingering effects of slavery, and those efforts are evident even today with programs such as affirmative action.

As our country continues to struggle against the way of life Lee and Jackson fought to maintain, we shouldn't honor their accomplishments at the same time.

Not only is the holiday an affront to blacks, promoters of equal rights, and the memory of Martin Luther King Jr., it also reflects poorly on the Commonwealth of Virginia.

South Carolina has gained negative publicity nationwide for continuing to fly the Confederate flag at its statehouse. Similarly, Virginia's new holiday could be taken as a sign that it just won't let go of -- and indeed continues to glorify -- its less-than-perfect past.

There's a reason the governor can't just add holidays to the state's vacation schedule whenever he pleases -- it's not free. In fact, it costs $900,000 to add a statewide holiday; most of that expense comes from agencies that must operate 24 hours a day. It's hard to call Lee-Jackson day harmless when it's costly as well.

Many Virginians refer to the current holiday simply as King day, unaware that Lee and Jackson technically share it as well. With the three men condensed into one holiday, Virginians can choose to honor only King, ignoring the generals. But if a day is dedicated exclusively to Lee and Jackson, there is no mistaking who is to be honored. Gilmore defends separation of the holidays by saying that King deserves a memorial holiday to himself. In reality he will draw more undeserved attention to these Confederate leaders. Eliminating their names from the calendar altogether is the only way to give King the honor he deserves.

Gilmore is right to remedy the irony of a holiday celebrating slaveholders and a freedom fighter in one breath. He is right to support honoring King separately -- especially in a Southern state that, in the past, has committed many atrocities against blacks.

But in his solution to create two holidays, Gilmore shows that he has yet to realize Confederate leaders were fighting for the wrong kind of America, and their endeavors to maintain slavery as a way of life are a blemish upon our nation's history and do not deserve our honor. There is no good reason to establish a Lee-Jackson holiday -- not even to get a day off of school.

(Jennifer Schaum is a Cavalier Daily associate editor.)


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