The states that celebrate both MLK Day and Confederate Holidays

Confederate holidays include Robert E. Lee's Birthday, Confederate Memorial Day, Confederate Heroes Day (Texas), Nathan Bedford Forrest Day (Tennessee), Jefferson Davis' Birthday;  Data: State government calendars, Axios research;  Cartogram: Shoshana Gordon and Jacque Schrag/Axios Visuals
Confederate holidays include Robert E. Lee’s Birthday, Confederate Memorial Day, Confederate Heroes Day (Texas), Nathan Bedford Forrest Day (Tennessee), Jefferson Davis’ Birthday; Data: State government calendars, Axios research; Cartogram: Shoshana Gordon and Jacque Schrag/Axios Visuals

Ten states — all in the American South — celebrate Martin Luther King Day and observe at least one Confederate holiday the rest of the year.

Why it matters: All US states honor MLK each year. But the number of states also honoring the Confederacy underscores the country’s struggle to reconcile its racial past.

What’s up: Alabama and Mississippi celebrate MLK and Robert E. Lee, defeated Confederate general and slave owner on the same day.

  • Arkansas, Georgia, Florida, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas all have at least one day they commemorate the Confederacy on other days of the year, according to Axios’ analysis.
  • Mississippi and Alabama observe a total of three Confederate holidays each year—Robert E. Lee Day, Confederate Memorial Day, and Jefferson Davis’ Birthday—all paid public holidays.
  • Last February, a bipartisan group of state senators in Alabama introduced legislation to split Robert E. Lee Day and MLK Day, but the legislation is “delayed indefinitely.”

The Intrigue: When South Carolina became one of the last states to honor MLK with a state holiday in 2000, the legislature also voted to create a Confederate Memorial Day, observed annually on May 10th.

  • Tennessee has a day of “special observance” for Nathan Bedford Forrest, another Confederate general and the Ku Klux Klan’s first great wizard.
  • Although Arkansas split Robert E. Lee Day and MLK Day in 2017, the state still commemorates Lee on the second Saturday of October and Jefferson Davis on June 3.
  • For years, Georgia included Confederate Memorial Day and Robert E. Lee Day on its official state holiday calendar. Since 2016, the state has changed both holiday names to the harmless-sounding “State Holiday.”
  • Georgia state law requires the governor to announce at least one day dedicated to honoring the Confederacy.

Zoom out: Defenders of Confederate holidays and memorials say removing them would erase history.

Reality check: Historians and scholars say that Confederate holidays and memorials in the South largely appeared long after the Civil War, when Confederate apologists pushed forward the Lost Cause narrative, which downplayed slavery.

What you say: “It’s a diminishing reality that people even recognize and celebrate these Confederate Days,” NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson told Axios.

  • “We must dispel any concept that the Confederacy and its participants were patriots.”
  • DaMareo Cooper, co-executive director of the Center for Popular Democracy, said it was hypocritical for a state to honor King while celebrating those who defended enslavement.
  • “There’s no way you can compare someone who literally fought for people’s highest ideals … to someone who said, ‘I think these people are checkbooks, they’re cows, they’re like animals.'”

Do not forget: While many remaining historic sites in the South dedicated to the Confederacy are well preserved, many sites associated with civil rights and the victorious Union North are abandoned or in disarray.

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