January 8, 2018 11:18:24 AM
A Columbus legislator has filed a bill that would designate separate days to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr. and Confederate General Robert E. Lee.
Rep. Kabir Karriem (D-Columbus) has filed HB-371 to observe Robert E. Lee's birthday on the fourth Monday of January. Mississippi and Alabama's state holidays observing Lee's birthday are observed on the third Monday of January, the federal holiday passed in 1987 as Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
"Both men had impacts on our history, and I think it's time to separate the holiday so that King can be observed for the Civil Rights icon he is," Karriem said. "I think this change in long overdue."
Mississippi and Alabama are the only states that continue to observe both Lee's birthday (a state holiday) on the same day as Martin Luther King Day. Mississippi established Robert E. Lee Day as a state holiday in 1910.
In March, Arkansas changed its state holiday honoring Lee to October. Meanwhile, Virginians honor Virginia natives Lee and fellow Confederate general Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson on the Friday before the MLK Jr. Day. Florida celebrates Lee on his birthday (Jan. 19).
Karriem said he hopes his bill, which would create a free-standing holiday to honor Lee, will have the bi-partisan support it needs to move through the legislature.
"That's why I wrote the bill like this," Karriem said. "I don't want this to be divisive, even though I have strong feeling about both holidays."
Co-sponsors of the bill include Cheikh Taylor (D, Starkville) and Karl Gibbs (D, West Point).
"It's pretty straight forward," said Taylor. "I respect the history and heritage of both men, but I want to make it clear: One of these men was for the Union and civil rights. The other was not. It seems obvious the holidays should be separated."
The bill has been assigned to the Rules Committee under chairman Jason White, (R, West).
"I want to talk to the chairman, have a sit-down with him and discuss how we can move this forward," Karriem said. "I know there has been some talk before of separating the holidays, but I don't think it was given the consideration it deserves. Hopefully, we've made enough progress in our state where we can do this. Like I said, it's long overdue."
White was not available to discuss the bill this morning.
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]
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