Happy Robert E. Lee’s birthday? Florida still has three Confederate holidays on the books
On Friday, Jan. 19, the state of Florida officially honors the birth of a man who led armies to fight against the United States of America.
Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s birthday is one of three Confederate holidays still on the books in the Sunshine State after well over a century, despite numerous attempts to remove them.
The holidays were added across the South during the years after Reconstruction, historians say, when Confederate supporters were promoting the false “Lost Cause” mythology, reshaping Southern textbooks, renaming cities and counties, downplaying the causes of the war and the evils of slavery, and erecting Confederate monuments in public squares to glorify Confederate leaders.
In recent years there has been a revitalized movement to remove such tributes, especially after 2015 when white supremacist Dylann Roof murdered nine Black church members in Charleston, South Carolina in what he said was an effort to bring back segregation or start a race war. News and videos of police brutality and systemic racism, high-profile cases like the deaths of Trayvon Martin, George Floyd, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Breonna Taylor, and increasingly violent protests, shootings and bomb threats by white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups led to widespread protests and demonstrations calling for a renewed push for social and racial justice.
In the last couple of decades, Confederate holidays have been quietly removed, renamed, or dropped from “paid day off” status, but they still remain enshrined in many states’ laws and there has been pushback against further Confederacy removal. A new bill filed for the 2024 Florida Legislative Session would punish not only anyone removing Florida’s Confederate memorials but would be retroactive back to January 2017.
What Confederate holidays does Florida observe?
Robert E. Lee’s birthday, Jan. 19
Confederate Memorial Day, Apr. 26
Jefferson Davis’ birthday, June 3
What is Confederate Memorial Day?
Confederate Memorial Day was started in Georgia in April 1866 to commemorate the deaths of Confederate soldiers on the first anniversary of the day that Confederate Gen. Joseph Johnson surrendered the Armey of Tennessee to Union Gen. William Sherman in Bennett Place, North Carolina, which many in the Confederacy felt marked the end of the Civil War. Lee had surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant two weeks earlier.
The holiday spread to the other 10 Confederate states with some changing it to locally important dates.
When did Florida add Confederate holidays to state law?
Confederate Memorial Day and Lee’s birthday were enshrined in Florida law in 1895, 30 years after the end of the Civil War. Jefferson Davis Day was added in 1905.
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Does Florida recognize Robert E. Lee’s birthday and other Confederate holidays as paid holidays?
No. The three Confederate holidays are legal holidays but not official state ones. Other legal holidays in Florida include Susan B. Anthony’s birthday, Good Friday, Pascua Florida Day (which marks the discovery of Florida in 1513 by Juan Ponce de Leon) and Flag Day.
What states celebrate Robert E. Lee’s birthday?
Alabama and Mississippi still recognize all three days as paid holidays for state employees.
North Carolina lists Lee’s birthday and Confederate Memorial Day. Arkansas has a Robert E. Lee Day on the second Saturday in October, along with Davis’ birthday.
After Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday became a federal holiday in 1983, several states combined MLK and Lee celebrations out of convenience to create “King-Lee Day” or “MLK-Lee Day.” All but Alabama and Mississippi later separated them again. Virginia, Lee’s home state, added King to their existing Lee-Jackson Day, which also honored Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson, until it was split up in 2000. Virginia continued to observe Lee-Jackson Day until 2021.
In the same year (2000) that South Carolina finally recognized King with a state holiday, the state also added Confederate Memorial Day.
Tennesee observed Lee’s birthday from 1917 to 1969 when it was changed to a “special day of observance,” but state law requires the governor to proclaim Jan. 19 as Robert E. Lee Day, along with Confederate Decoration Day (June 3), Nathan Bedford Forrest Day (July 13) and Davis’ birthday.
Lousiana honored Lee’s birthday until 2022 when it was successfully removed from the state holiday calendar. Texas has celebrated “Lee Day” since 1931 but changed it to Confederate Heroes Day in 1973. Georgia commemorated Lee in November and Confederate Memorial Day in April but in 2015 both holidays were replaced with unnamed “State Holidays.”
Why does Florida still have Confederate holidays?
Senate Minority Leader Lauren Book, D-Davie, has tried three times to have Confederate holidays stricken from Florida Statutes, starting in 2017 after the deadly rallies in Charlottesville, North Carolina. The first bill she filed took aim at Confederate Memorial Day but it was withdrawn and another was introduced to remove all three.
Bills she filed in 2021 and 2022 not only sought to remove the holidays but attempted to strike Florida Statutes 256.051 and 256.10, which protect “the flags of the Confederacy” from being mutilated.
“As a State, we must underscore diversity and undercut tributes to Confederacy, which upheld the institution of slavery,” Book said in a statement in 2021. “With the hate and divisiveness we’re seeing today, it is more important than ever to condemn racism and reaffirm that we are indeed ‘one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all — not just for some.”
The bills have faced intense opposition in the Florida Legislature from lawmakers who say that Confederate holidays and memorials represent history and heritage, and they object to what they call the erasure of history and the rise of “cancel culture.”
‘“I always have a bit of pain in my heart when I realize people don’t want to respect each other’s history,” Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, whose great, great, great grandfather fought for the Confederacy, said about the 2022 bill. “The good, the bad, and the ugly.”
All three bills of Book’s died in committee.
This article originally appeared on The Daytona Beach News-Journal: Florida honors Robert E. Lee’s birthday, 2 other Confederate holidays