Our View: Clinging to irrational traditions

 

 

 

In the Mississippi Legislature, some bills are considered dead on arrival. 

 

Each year, hundreds of bills are filed that have no chance of passage. They are often presented by legislators who are trying to make a point rather than enact new law. 

 

Most of those bills are either downright silly, so narrowly focused as to be irrelevant or patently unconstitutional. 

 

But not all bills that die in committee without ever having reached the floor for a vote fit those descriptions. Sometimes, the bills are worthy of the attention of the full Legislature, yet die in committee nevertheless. 

 

Last week, Rep. Kabir Karriem filed such a bill. House Bill 750 would remove a holiday celebrating Robert E. Lee's birthday and Confederate Memorial Day as official state holidays. 

 

Robert E. Lee's birthday was established in 1910 as an official state holiday -- a time when Jim Crow rule in the South was establishing its dominance -- and has been celebrated on the third Monday of January ever since. In 1997, 14 years after it became a federal holiday, Martin Luther King Jr. Day became a state holiday as well. Since then, MLK and Lee have shared the same holiday in Mississippi, as it does in Alabama. For many, that seems unseemly, given that each man's legacy is diametrically opposed to the other. Lee fought to sustain slavery. King fought to cast off the lingering effects of the racial injustice that persisted long after the war had ended. 

 

Why Mississippi, in 2019, still celebrates Lee's birthday is hard to grasp. As far as can be determined, Lee has no ties to the state and likely never set foot on Mississippi soil aside from the chance that he might have passed thorough the state en route to the Mexican War, 12 years before the Civil War. 

 

Lee's birthday celebration is a relic of a unenlightened period in our history and should have been discarded long ago.  

 

But to give you a sense of just how stubbornly many people in our state still cling to the vestiges of a "lost cause" that deserved to be lost, consider the reaction to a Facebook post Gov. Phil Bryant posted on Monday, the joint MLK-Lee holiday. 

 

The Governor's post suggested that Mississippians visit the Museum of Mississippi History and the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum as a way to celebrate MLK Day. 

 

The comment section was peppered with insulted Confederates, reminding the Governor that Monday was Robert E. Lee Day. 

 

One response chastised the governor for that omission of "our history." For the record, MLK actually did visit Mississippi, so he likely holds a better claim on being part of our history than Lee. 

 

If you want to know why Mississippi still has confederate imagery in its state flag, why Confederate Memorial Day is still celebrated jointly with the national Memorial Day or why each April is designated "Confederate Heritage Month," look no further than the attitudes reflected in those comments on the Governor's Facebook page. 

 

That will also explain why Karriem's bill has zero chance of a fair hearing in the Legislature. Even legislators who might agree with Karriem are going to be reluctant to support the bill openly. It's an election year, after all. Sadly ruffling the feathers of those whose cling to all things Confederate remains a political liability. 

 

So Karriem's bill -- much like the bill he filed last year that sought to appease the Confederates by simply separating the two holidays -- will die quietly in the Rules Committee.  

 

That's unfortunate. 

 

On Monday, as politicians paused to note MLK Day, they noted that our state has made great progress in race relations while acknowledging that we still have far to go. 

 

The fate of Karriem's bill doesn't negate the first part of that statement, but it certainly affirms the second. 

 

Our state is nowhere near ready to abandon those old hurtful traditions. 

 

It's really just that simple.

 

 

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