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Lawmaker seeks to separate MLK, Robert E. Lee holidays

By KIM CHANDLER,  Associated Press

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — A Birmingham lawmaker wants to separate the Alabama holiday that jointly honors slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. and Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

Mississippi and Alabama are the only two states that on Monday will jointly honor King and Lee with a single state holiday.

State Rep. John Rogers, a Birmingham Democrat, plans to introduce legislation to split the two and move Lee’s holiday to Confederate Memorial Day, which is held in April.

“A lot of black folks feel like it diminishes Martin Luther King’s day to put it on the same day as Robert E. Lee,” Rogers said.

Rogers said the state would still honor Lee but on a different day. He said he hoped that, and the fact that it would not alter the number of state holidays, would increase lawmakers’ receptiveness to the idea. Previous efforts to eliminate, or consolidate, Confederate holidays in Alabama have been unsuccessful.

“I think it’s got a fair chance, but I don’t know. It is Alabama,” Rogers said of the outlook for his legislation. The Birmingham Democrat joked that neither man would likely want to be celebrated with the other.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a federal holiday that was designated by Congress in 1983. Alabama already had a state holiday on the third Monday in January honoring Lee. For decades, Alabama has had a single holiday honoring both men.

King was born Jan. 15, 1929. Lee was born Jan. 19, 1807.

Alabama has three state holidays honoring Confederate figures. In addition to King-Lee Day, the state marks Confederate Memorial Day in April and the birthday of Confederate President Jefferson Davis in June.

Legislation filed by Democrats in Mississippi would do away with the official state holidays honoring Lee and Confederate Memorial Day.

The Mississippi Department of Revenue this week drew a backlash on Twitter for a tweet noting that the office would be closed Monday “in honor of General Robert E. Lee’s birthday and Martin Luther King Jr. Day.” The department later deleted the tweet.

Wayne Flynt, the author of several history books on Southern history, said white Southerners in the late 1800s and early 1900s began creating monuments and memorials to the Confederacy and soldiers who died in the Civil War.

Some Southern states have eliminated or reduced Confederate holidays, seeking to cut ties with the Old South and slavery.

Arkansas in 2017 ended its dual holiday for Lee and King. The state now honors King alone in January.

Georgia in 2015 struck the name “Confederate Memorial Day.” It is now known as “state holiday.”

Asked for comment on the Alabama bill, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey’s press office said she would review the proposal.

“Like the members of the Alabama Legislature, Governor Ivey gives each piece of legislation full consideration. The governor will review the bill as it makes its way through the legislative process,” Ivey spokesman Daniel Sparkman wrote in an email.

Alabama lawmakers designated Dec. 1 as a day to honor civil rights leader Rosa Parks. However, the day honoring Parks is not a full-fledged holiday in which state offices close.

The Alabama legislative session begins March 5.

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