A reader emailed me over the weekend to note that Arkansas would have a dual, official holiday today: it would honor the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and the same time, the state would also honor Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s birthday.
And though I was admittedly skeptical about this, it turns out, that’s entirely true. The Arkansas Secretary of State’s page specifically notes that the state celebrates both birthdays today.
Complicating matters, Malcolm Jones notes that Arkansas isn’t the only one.
King has a national holiday in his honor and Lee does not (at the state level it’s a different and much more problematic story: five Southern states officially celebrate Lee’s birthday, and Alabama, Arkansas, and Mississippi celebrate both men’s birthdays on the same day). Put it more bluntly: King deserves a holiday in his honor, and Lee does not.That’s as it should be, since King did everything he could to make all Americans equal and Lee was on the wrong side of the conflict that more than any other tore the country apart. Which is not to say that there’s not every good reason to study Lee, one of the most problematic individuals in our nation’s history. But celebrating him, in the name of “heritage” or anything else, that’s another thing entirely.
I can’t be the only one who finds the state holidays in Alabama, Arkansas, and Mississippi jarring, can I?
As for the actual national holiday, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson spoke this morning at the wreath-laying ceremony at the King memorial in Washington, D..C., and participated in the National Day of Service.