Virginia is slated to follow suit of sister-states Hawaii, Kentucky and New York in makingElection Daya state holiday. On Thursday, Virginia lawmakers voted to swap out Lee-Jackson Day, which celebrates the lives of confederate military leaders Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, with Election Day.
HB 108, a bill introduced by delegate Joseph Lindsey(D), passed the Virginia House with a vote of 55-42 in favor of striking Lee-Jackson Day from the list of state holidays. At the beginning of January,Sen. Louise Lucas(D) introducedSB 601, a similar bill that also passed in the state senate.
The January holiday, which falls on the Friday before Martin Luther King Jr. day, was once called Lee-Jackson-King Day until the celebrations were split into two in 2000, according toTime-And-Date.com. Lee and Jackson both owned and promoted the ownership of slaves while engaging in a civil war against the United States on behalf of the Confederate states.
Confederate statues and holidays have been a point of contention between progressive scholars and southern history buffs that fight to preserve the nostalgia of a time when Black people were property. Virginia, which was once the capital of the confederacy, has been in the spotlight of the aforementioned debate.
In 2017, the attempted removal of a Robert E. Lee statue motivated white supremacists to rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, resulting in the death of counter-protester Heather Heyer and two state troopers, as Blavity previously reported. The city, in mourning of those killed by the violent extremists, covered the statue in a black tarp but was ordered to remove it after the state court ruled that the tarps “interfered with the public’s right to see the monuments and enjoy the parks,” CNNreports.
Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, who facedbacklashin January 2019 for a 1984 yearbook photo of an unidentified man in blackface and another in a KKK costume, supports the legislation and began taking steps to remove the confederate statues after receiving a poignant letter from lawmakers, NBCreports.
In the letter, the representatives said “These statues aimed to rewrite Lee’s reputation from that of a cruel slave owner and Confederate General to portraying him as a kind man and reluctant war hero who selflessly served his home state of Virginia,”reportsthe Washington Examiner.
Northam said “I don’t think there’s any secret that it’s in honor of two individuals who fought to prolong slavery which is not a proud aspect of Virginia’s history,” NPRreports.
The vote, which fell during Black History Month, was acknowledged as a step in the right direction by activist groups, both locally and nationally.
The fight to make Election Day a national holiday has been met with criticism from Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R) who denounced the idea while speaking out against proposed legislation HR 1 which included the change.
“Just what America needs, another paid holiday and a bunch of government workers being paid to go out and work, I assume our colleagues on the other side, on their campaigns. This is the Democrat plan to restore democracy? A brand new week of paid vacation for every federal employee who’d like to hover around while you cast your ballot?” McConnellsaid.