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Separate days honor separate ways

GREAT civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. once had a dream ( that one day his ideals would be honored in conjunction with those of Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson. I don't think so. However, this is the way it has been in Virginia for a long time now, and it's time for a change.

Last Monday the Commonwealth honored Lee, Jackson and King during the same state holiday. One of these men fought for blacks' rights while the other two fought to keep blacks enslaved. That's ironic. Sure, Lee and Jackson were great war leaders who fought hard for Virginia and what it stood for at the time. While Virginia should be allowed to recognize them for their leadership, King's progressive leadership should be recognized separately.

Thankfully, at the Jan. 12 State of the Commonwealth address, Gov. James S. Gilmore III called for an end to the "confusion" that arises out of honoring these men on the same day. He proposed a separate holiday for the slain civil rights leader that would concentrate on his ideals alone. Proposals are great, but on with the action.

Gilmore stated, "The combination of these three individuals on a single day creates confusion among our citizens. The time has come to enhance these holidays and give them each their due recognition."

This confusion has lasted a long time now. Former Gov. Douglas Wilder, the nation's first elected black governor and a friend of Gilmore's, spent eight years pushing for a state King holiday. After much debate, the General Assembly compromised by allowing the third Monday of January to be devoted to King, along with Lee and Jackson.

The Commonwealth first celebrated Lee's Jan. 19 birthday in 1890. In the early 1900s, Jan. 19 became Lee-Jackson day - Jackson's birthday is Jan. 21. King's birthday is Jan. 15.

This three-way celebration isn't right. Honoring different people who held starkly different ideals just doesn't make sense. If there must be a holiday for Confederate generals, fine. But the celebration of King's accomplishments is one that is held in most states, and due to King's greater influences, holds more precedence.

Simply put, King is more revered than Lee or Jackson. His ideals affected the entire nation. More importantly, his ideals continue to have a profound, positive effect. Lee and Jackson served their state loyally and honorably in a battle they ultimately lost. Honestly, America is no better off because of them. But America is better off due to King's accomplishments, and therefore King's recognition should take precedence.

Wilder said, "Virginia is diverse. We should be able to celebrate different heroes of different eras at different times."

This couldn't have been said better. King stood for racial integration and equal treatment for all. Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson killed in order to maintain the honor of the South and its institution of slavery. King is a national hero; Lee and Jackson were loyal to their state. All fought for what they believed in. Only one changed the nation for the better. King's holiday should stand alone.

There are some arguments against separate holidays. Some think that since Lee and Jackson were Virginians, then their accomplishments outweigh King's.

Robert W. Barbour, commander of the Virginia division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans argues, "Lee and Jackson are the two Virginians here, Martin Luther King Jr. is not" ("Black legislators waste no time on King Bill," The Washington Post, Jan. 14).

Ignoring the feats of King simply because he is not a Virginian isn't fair or right. Doing so in favor of two men who held opposing views only muddles the situation more. Lee and Jackson were Virginians. But so are the thousands of blacks for whom King fought -- and died -- in order to integrate them into Virginian and American society.

In the new millennium, the United States is supposed to be past its torrid history of racism and inequality. It is supposed to celebrate diversity and those who made significant contributions to it. King is the most influential, positive and successful civil rights leader ever. His honor should be upheld all over the nation and on a day devoted solely to him. It isn't necessary or right to throw a couple of famous Confederate Virginians into the mix and hope nobody notices the contrast and confusion. It's fine to honor great Virginians, just do it on someone else's birthday.

(Brandon Almond's column appears Tuesdays in The Cavalier Daily.)


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