Many Mississippians are celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday as both a federal and state holiday.
But in Mississippi, Monday is also a holiday honoring someone else: Robert E. Lee, the Confederate general. Mississippi is one of just two states — along with neighboring Alabama — that officially honors Lee on the shared holiday.
State Rep. Kabir Karriem, a Democrat from Columbus, said he will again offer legislation this session, as he has in the past, to make MLK Day a standalone holiday.
“This juxtaposition of two figures who stand at opposite ends of the spectrum of American history and values is not only incongruous but also deeply disrespectful to the legacy of Dr. King and all that he stood for,” Karriem said in a statement.
After a national holiday was established in the 1980s to honor King, numerous Southern states combined a day for King and Lee, who was already honored with a holiday. Mississippi lawmakers viewed it as a compromise to combine a holiday for King and Lee.
In 2022, Louisiana repealed both the holiday for Lee and for Confederate Memorial Day. Mississippi still recognizes Confederate Memorial Day in April, and the holiday anchors Confederate Heritage Month, which the last five governors have signed annually since 1993.
“It is essential to recognize the stark differences between the two men being celebrated on this shared day,” Karriem said. “Robert E. Lee is remembered as a Confederate general who fought to preserve the institution of slavery, a cause rooted in oppression and racial injustice.
“On the other hand, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a champion of civil rights and equality, advocating for a society built on justice, compassion, and the inherent dignity of all individuals. To honor these two figures on the same day is to perpetuate a false equivalence between a defender of oppression and a tireless advocate for freedom and equality.”
In addition to the holidays, Mississippi has clung to other Confederate imagery.
Mississippi remains the only state to displays two statues of Confederates — Jefferson Davis and James Zachariah George — in the nation’s Capitol. Davis was a slaveowner and president of the Confederacy, and George was a lead architect of the 1890 Mississippi Constitution that stripped voting rights from nearly 150,000 Black Mississippians. Neither man was born in Mississippi.
The Mississippi statues were placed in 1931 after they were approved by the state Legislature in 1924.
In 1864, Congress authorized each state to donate and display two statues at the Capitol of citizens “illustrious for their historic renown or for distinguished civic or military services.”
The state Legislature can vote to replace the monuments. Legislation has been filed in the past two remove the Mississippi monuments, but it has died in committee. In 2020, the Mississippi Legislature did remove the Confederate battle emblem from the state flag.
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