MLK Day Still a Problem in Mississippi

Martin Luther King Jr. meets with then-President Lyndon Johnson following the signing of the Voting Rights Act in 1965.

Martin Luther King Jr. meets with then-President Lyndon Johnson following the signing of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. Photo by Photo by Yoichi R. Okamoto

On the official state website, Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann proclaims the third Monday in January a state holiday in honor of Robert E. Lee and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The website, and the legislative proclamation, gives the two men equal weight without specifying why either is so honored.

The third Monday in January presents a conundrum for many folks in the Deep South, made even more complicated by the fact that today is also the day the first African American president is sworn in for a second term.

Today's commemoration in Mississippi is for two individuals who worked at opposite poles for black people in America: King dedicated his life to win equal rights and opportunities for African Americans; Lee led the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia in the Civil War, a fight where the South fought to continue the enslaved labor of blacks and the economic system slavery made possible.

At Hinds Community College, commemoration for both men has been rolled together into Heritage Day. Hinds CC isn't the only institution to use the Heritage Day label, Mississippi Public Radio reports. Others, including some Mississippi state lawmakers, aren't ready to give up commemorating Lee as a hero of the South.

Designating the holiday as Heritage Day may seem ambiguous and unthreatening; however, Dr. Ted Ownby, director of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi, believes the term causes confusion and undermines King's contribution to society.

"I think it is important to name Martin Luther King or the civil rights struggle more broadly as what this holiday is noting," Ownby told MPB. Learning why the country chooses to honor King is an entry point to understanding the civil rights era, he said, though he said students should also learn about Lee.

State Sen. Hillman Frazier, D-Jackson, introduced legislation to make Martin Luther King Jr. Day an official state holiday in 1997, although President Ronald Reagan signed a bill making the third Monday in January a federal holiday in 1983. It was 2000 before all 50 states recognized the holiday. Mississippi may be one of the last states to combine King and Lee into commemorations on the same day. Virginia, Lee's home state, separated MLK Day from commemorations for Lee and "Stonewall" Jackson, another Confederate general, in 2000.

In an interview with the Margaret Walker Alexander Research Center at Jackson State University in 1998, Frazier recalled the atmosphere in Mississippi during the 1960s:

"One of the things that was quite shocking during the Movement was when they killed Dr. Martin Luther King. I was a student in school at the time and we received the news. And we were angry at the time. So we marched out. He was out in Memphis trying to uplift the rights of sanitation workers. We could identify with that because that's some of the things happening in the city of Jackson. Our sanitation workers were underpaid. They were driven around by white drivers who actually watched them do the work but were higher paid; so when Martin Luther King was assassinated with strikers at the time. And also during my college days at Jackson State University, I remember when students were slain on campus. I was a student at the time and when the police department came out on campus. That was actually during the height of the Vietnam War. The officials came on campus and they did shoot up and kill a couple of students. It was an eye-opening experience to many students."

A sniper gunned down Martin Luther King Jr. April 4, 1968, at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn., after a lifetime in service to the cause of racial equality in America. He was 39 years old. His assassin, James Earl Ray, died in prison.

Lee died at home of pneumonia following a stroke at age 63. The U.S. Senate restored his citizenship—stripped after the Civil War—posthumously in 1975.

Comments

bubbat 1 year, 9 months ago

It's only a problem for those who wish to make it a problem. Robert E. Lee Day has been a state holiday in Mississippi since before MLK was even born. People can celebrate which ever one they want,no problem. Simple as that.

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tstauffer 1 year, 9 months ago

Bubba, that's not really an argument. Just because something has been done for a while doesn't mean it's the right thing to continue doing. And yes, people can celebrate or remember whatever they want, but that doesn't mean it needs to be an official state holiday . And putting King and Lee together in the same sentence, much less the same holiday, is fraught, at best.

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darryl 1 year, 9 months ago

Surprise, but I'm with bubbat on this. Todd opines, "Just because something has been done for a while doesn't mean it's the right thing to continue doing." Well, howdy, what other holidays can we get rid of or substitute for a more politically-correct version? Howzabout...oh, let's see... Valentine's Day? We already have to celebrate Black History Month in February so what do we need Valentine's Day for? Or are we just confining our discussion to Federal holidays? Hmm...we don't really need Christmas, do we? Let's make the some odd days of Kwanzaa the national holiday. Never mind that we've been celebrating Christmas for centuries. Let's elevate this trumped up new holiday to replace it. Columbus day isn't celebrated federally, so let's get rid of it and put, oh...Bobby Seale day instead! Washington's and Lincoln's birthdays aren't celebrated anymore. Why don't we get Miss Myrlie a day for herself? (tongue in both cheeks...)

Todd suggests that putting King and Lee in the same sentence is fraught. I agree. Lee would never willingly submit himself to be in the company of a misogynist.

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tstauffer 1 year, 9 months ago

Well, howdy, what other holidays can we get rid of or substitute for a more politically-correct version? Howzabout...oh, let's see... Valentine's Day? We already have to celebrate Black History Month in February so what do we need Valentine's Day for? Or are we just confining our discussion to Federal holidays?

In fact, we're discussing official state holidays, yes. So... try again?

Or are we just confining our discussion to Federal holidays? Hmm...we don't really need Christmas, do we? Let's make the some odd days of Kwanzaa the national holiday. Never mind that we've been celebrating Christmas for centuries.

Who mentioned Christmas? Unless you're equating Robert E. Lee and Jesus Christ then this is non-sensical.

Todd suggests that putting King and Lee in the same sentence is fraught. I agree. Lee would never willingly submit himself to be in the company of a misogynist.

Maybe, but, let's face it, Lee's first problem would have been that King was black.

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darryl 1 year, 9 months ago

No, I was equating holidays with time off. I agree it's a stretch regarding the persons (?) being memorialized in this fashion. But they are federal holidays all the same and, thus, fair game.

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richaoj 1 year, 9 months ago

I'm fine with a Robert E. Lee day, just change it to another day. Problem solved. Robert E. Lee, despite what he has come to represent, was a great man who was deeply troubled by the institution of slavery but put his personal beliefs behind his faith in the democratic process and his allegiance to his state--his state decided to secede and called on him to lead the military.

"It is good that war is so horrible, or we might grow to like it. "

"So far from engaging in a war to perpetuate slavery, I am rejoiced that Slavery is abolished. I believe it will be greatly for the interest of the South. So fully am I satisfied of this that I would have cheerfully lost all that I have lost by the war, and have suffered all that I have suffered to have this object attained."

-- Robert E. Lee

Those who object to Robert E. Lee day may find joy in the irony that those who celebrate it as part of a racist tradition are actually honoring a man who actually opposed slavery.

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richaoj 1 year, 9 months ago

It's fine if people want to celebrate Robert E. Lee day, just put it on a different day. Problem solved. Robert E. Lee was a great man who was deeply troubled by the institution of slavery and the war. However, he put his belief in the democratic process and his duty to his state (his state voted to secede and called on him to be the general) before his own personal beliefs. He is a fascinating character in American history and perhaps should be lauded. Granted, people have used him to represent things that he did not represent, and in this way he has become a symbol used by racists. But that does not and should not take away from him as a person. We celebrate our founders even though, judged by modern times, would be far from acceptable.

"So far from engaging in a war to perpetuate slavery, I am rejoiced that Slavery is abolished. I believe it will be greatly for the interest of the South. So fully am I satisfied of this that I would have cheerfully lost all that I have lost by the war, and have suffered all that I have suffered to have this object attained."

"It is good that war is so horrible, or we might grow to like it. " --Robert E. Lee

P.S. Those of you that oppose the Robert E. Lee day may find some solace in the irony that in celebrating Robert E. Lee day, the racists are celebrating someone who would be appalled by them.

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kdavis 1 year, 9 months ago

Todd, I would suggest that you read more about Robert E. Lee before you make such a false comment that Lee would have a problem with MLK because he was black. I'm not going to wade into the debate about the holiday, but i am opposed to people demonizing great men of the past of which I would count both MLK and Lee in that category. Before the Civil War, Lee was considered one of the best commanders in the US Army. In fact, Lee played a large role in the Mexican-American War which if the US had not prevailed in that conflict, parts of Texas and California would be part of Mexico today. Lee was very conflicted about the Civil War, secession and slavery. In the end, he felt that it was his duty to defend Virginia which most of his ancestors helped settle. That was a decision that was made 150 years ago that neither you or I can comprehend today. It's ok to have a debate about the naming of the holiday, but you do not have to destroy Lee's accomplishments in order to have that debate.

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tstauffer 1 year, 9 months ago

But they are federal holidays all the same and, thus, fair game.

Or they would be "fair game" if that's what we're talking about. But it's not. If anything, the suggestion on this thread would be to change the way the State of Mississippi recognizes a state holiday that coincides with a Federal one (that would continue to exist).

And it's only by manufacturing an illogical slippery slope argument that we can make it follow that were we to change the way Mississippi recognizes a particular state holiday, then next in line would be Christmas.

(Or, for that matter, Valentine's Day... if you get time off for Valentine's Day you must have a very unique working situation. :)

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tstauffer 1 year, 9 months ago

Robert E. Lee was a great man who was deeply troubled by the institution of slavery and the war. However, he put his belief in the democratic process and his duty to his state (his state voted to secede and called on him to be the general) before his own personal beliefs.

and...

Todd, I would suggest that you read more about Robert E. Lee before you make such a false comment that Lee would have a problem with MLK because he was black.

The notion that Lee held strident anti-slavery opinions is... charitably... revisionism.

Lee seems clearly to have been held sway by the not-at-all unique "necessary evil" argument that had inherent in it an assumption of absolute white supremacy, and a call against any action (other than prayer) to change the institution:

“In this enlightened age, there are few I believe, but what will acknowledge, that slavery as an institution, is a moral & political evil in any Country. It is useless to expatiate on its disadvantages. I think it however a greater evil to the white man than to the black race, & while my feelings are strongly enlisted in behalf of the latter, my sympathies are more strong for the former. The blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, socially & physically. The painful discipline they are undergoing, is necessary for their instruction as a race, & I hope will prepare & lead them to better things. How long their subjugation may be necessary is known & ordered by a wise Merciful Providence.” {emphasis mine}

Lee was a slaveholder himself, by some accounts ruthless in tracking down escaped slaves, and personally responsible for the discipline of the slaves owned both by himself and by his wealthy wife, including the lashings, the transactions, the buying and selling of people as chattel. When his wife's father's death freed his slaves in his will, Lee fought in court to make sure they remained in his service for five additional years.

He had harsh words for abolitionists and others who thought that slavery should be ended by somehow actually freeing the slaves and outlawing the practice. His preferred approach was... to wait.

"Considering the relation of master and slave, controlled by humane laws and influenced by Christianity and an enlightened public sentiment, as the best that can exist between the white and black races while intermingled as at present in this country, I would depreciate any sudden disturbance of that relation unless it be necessary to avert a greater calamity to both." - Robert E. Lee, 1865 {emphasis mine}

So there's no reason to pretend that Lee was somehow transcendent in his view of slavery; he professed what was essentially the intellectual Southerner's religion-and-race justified viewpoint at the time, rooted in his version of Christianity and racial supremacy.

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richaoj 1 year, 9 months ago

I think when we talk about these historical figures, we have to be careful to be objective about how we look at them. If we look at all our 'heroes' of history and judge them by modern standards, they can all quickly become monsters--just look at the 3/5th's compromise. That is not to say that we excuse their moral failings or that we should just shrug off the moral failings of our past like the forced relocation and genocide of the indigenous people of North America or slavery. But to judge them entirely on modern standards is unfair and is in itself a kind of revisionist history and is unfair.

I'm not saying that 1860's Robert E. Lee wouldn't have been a racist in our time--hell nearly the entire population would have been racist by our standards (the 13th Amendment was sold to the American public as a way to leverage the South to end the war). To take those quotes out of their appropriate historical context does not a conclusion make.

For example: I can take this quote from Abraham Lincoln that he said during his 4th debate with Stephen Douglas: “I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in anyway the social and political equality of the white and black races – that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race. I say upon this occasion I do not perceive that because the white man is to have the superior position the negro should be denied everything.”

This quote is taken completely out of context and would certainly make Lincoln look like a racist (which he even probably would be by modern standards). The context of the quote though is that he was running for office and was trying to assuage fears that he would make blacks equal to whites, a very unpopular opinion in Illinois at the time he was running. The context is that he was a politician running for office, and we all know how truthful campaigns can be. (/sarcasm).

Does this mean that we shouldn't celebrate Lincoln for his character and for his achievements? No, of course not. Should we excuse him for playing to racist sentiment while running for political office. No. But we can understand these historical figures in their appropriate context--they are all human after all. Their human struggles with morality and the issues of the time can teach us all about ourselves as humans.

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richaoj 1 year, 9 months ago

To provide some more historical context to quote: "In this enlightened age . . . " A prominent Lee historian writes: "This [letter] was the prevailing view among most religious people of Lee's class in the border states. They believed that slavery existed because God willed it and they thought it would end when God so ruled. The time and the means were not theirs to decide, conscious though they were of the ill-effects of Negro slavery on both races. Lee shared these convictions of his neighbors without having come in contact with the worst evils of African bondage. He spent no considerable time in any state south of Virginia from the day he left Fort Pulaski in 1831 until he went to Texas in 1856. All his reflective years had been passed in the North or in the border states. He had never been among the blacks on a cotton or rice plantation. At Arlington, the servants had been notoriously indolent, their master's master. Lee, in short, was only acquainted with slavery at its best, and he judged it accordingly. At the same time, he was under no illusion regarding the aims of the Abolitionists or the effect of their agitation."

All of this said, we can look at Robert E. Lee as he was--flawed certainly. But he was someone who represented qualities that we can look to: his sense of duty, his feelings about war, that he put country before self despite his [admittedly flawed] struggles with slavery and his problems with fighting and killing men with whom he had gone to Westpoint with and been close friends with.

Abraham Lincoln apparently though enough of the man to offer him the Union General's position, which he declined because of his allegiance to his home state.

Anyway, this is devolving into an argument about history, when that is not at all the important point here. We celebrate Lincoln from coming up from nothing, growing up in a one-room log cabin and we look to him as a fulfillment of the American Dream, but in reality his father became quite wealthy as a skilled worker. We celebrate the principles represented by the completely factually inaccurate story about Washington and the cherry tree. When we look back at these figures, we don't necessarily look for factual minutiae about their lives, but about the values they represent. Why can't we celebrate Robert E. Lee for the values he represented rather than the minutiae of his life: that he represented a military leader who yearned for peace and was a strong proponent for reconciliation and reconstruction after the war, the president of what is now Washington and Lee University, and as a man who represented duty without ambition.

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tstauffer 1 year, 9 months ago

This [letter] was the prevailing view among most religious people of Lee's class in the border states. They believed that slavery existed because God willed it and they thought it would end when God so ruled.

Two points. (1.) On the merits of the "prevailing view" -- this is a rather convenient way to look at slavery given the circumstances, eh? One could argue that there was plenty of convincing arguments outside of the South and border states in the post-Enlightenment period that intelligent people could have paid attention to in order to change their opinion. This wasn't the height of slavery on the planet, and there's a certain amount of fingers-in-your-ears justification in the "God-rules-it-righteous-specifically-here-on-this-Planatation-where-it's-making-me-money" argument that rings a bit hollow.

(2.) But, if that's really the prevailing wisdom that surrounds Lee, then he, therefore, fails any test that suggest he transcended his "class" or education, and doesn't deserve credit for being anything more. One could even judge him more harshly, given the exposure he apparently had to other places and ideas; the resulting fervor he put into arguing against and blaming abolitionists suggests he doubled-down on the received wisdom instead of somehow deeply questioning it. (I also think you could question the prominent historian's characterization of Lee's household, as there appears to be evidence that slavery under and around Lee was not nearly as pleasant as it's made out to be.)

Why can't we celebrate Robert E. Lee for the values he represented rather than the minutiae of his life: that he represented a military leader who yearned for peace and was a strong proponent for reconciliation and reconstruction after the war, the president of what is now Washington and Lee University, and as a man who represented duty without ambition.

You can, if you must. But why can't it be done without a state holiday? Lee wasn't a Mississippian, he didn't do anything particularly transcendent or powerful in the service of Mississippi, except insofar as he lead an army elsewhere in the unconstitutional rebellion that Mississippi also participated in... one which Mississippi undertook primarily to defend and further the institution of slavery.

The answer, in my opinion, is that Lee was the squeaky-cleanest symbol that the South could find when it was crafting the legend of the Lost Cause and we continue to deal with that fallout to this day. Lee may have been a great solider, but he fought on the wrong side and for the wrong reasons, and his "values" suggest nothing that made him more than middle-of-the-pack in nobility. So remember him gently, if you so desire, but I'd still think there's an argument against a state holiday.

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donnaladd 1 year, 9 months ago

WOW; from Todd's post above:

Robert E. Lee: "I think it however a greater evil to the white man than to the black race, & while my feelings are strongly enlisted in behalf of the latter, my sympathies are more strong for the former. The blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, socially & physically. The painful discipline they are undergoing, is necessary for their instruction as a race, & I hope will prepare & lead them to better things."

And the state of Mississippi honors THIS man with a holiday--and then we get all bent out of shape when the rest of the world thinks racism still exists here. My state never ceases to amaze me.

When, fellow Mississippians, are we going to stop pandering to the racists among us and start acting like the state we claim to be? Non-racists and non-revisionists, stand up and be heard. These types have tarred and branded our state for too long.

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richaoj 1 year, 9 months ago

Lee's household, as there appears to be evidence that slavery under and around Lee was not nearly as pleasant as it's made out to be.

Just to be clear, Lee's family didn't own slaves. He did inherit slaves from his father in law, which under a condition from the will, must be freed within 5 years, which he did. He did not own slaves after this. There was an allegation of abuse, which he fervently denied.

Lee wasn't a Mississippian, he didn't do anything particularly transcendent or powerful in the service of Mississippi, except insofar as he lead an army elsewhere in the unconstitutional rebellion that Mississippi also participated in

You have a point here. It might be better suited to a state holiday in Virginia. However, Lee did become a popular figure both in the North and South following the war and became known for a more advocating a restorative justice rather than punitive approach to reconstruction.

But let's be honest, Robert E. Lee day is going to stick around, like the Mississippi flag (which I don't like btw). So why not try a restorative justice approach and try to celebrate the good things about the man and take the power out of the racist symbol that he has become.

If you simply just manage to politically change the day, will that actually change any minds? I doubt it. Racists will be just as racist as they ever were, except now they will have a further resentment against the "liberal carpetbaggers" [I've been called those words before even though I am from the South]. Perhaps with a restorative justice approach and trying to talk to each other instead of at each other, some minds will actually change.

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richaoj 1 year, 9 months ago

You can't beat the racist out of a racist--that's all I'm saying.

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richaoj 1 year, 9 months ago

When, fellow Mississippians, are we going to stop pandering to the racists among us and start acting like the state we claim to be? Non-racists and non-revisionists, stand up and be heard. These types have tarred and branded our state for too long.

And the war continues . . . You catch more flies with honey than vinegar, and you change minds by understanding rather than accusations and name-calling. I'm sure you are going to change alot of minds by using such incendiary language.

I have made reasoned arguments, yet you choose to label me as racist and revisionist by implication, and that is fairly hilarious. You choose to put me in a box because of my arguments here.

I will have you know that (a) I am a former Mississippian going to law school in Boston (and we all no real southern racist would wander north of the Mason-Dixon line (b) I have voted Democratic in every presidential election since I could vote (c) I am not racist, and don't really have to defend myself against such charges.

I think that you will find that I agree with you on more issues than you probably think.

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darryl 1 year, 9 months ago

Donna, I would propose that the creation of MLK day in lieu of continuing celebration of Robert E. Lee day would be revisionist and pandering to a different sort of racist. Who knows, but after we are all dust and the next generation of history massagers have had their way, there will likely be a different person in this slot regardless.

And Todd writes, But why can't it be done without a state holiday? Lee wasn't a Mississippian, he didn't do anything particularly transcendent or powerful in the service of Mississippi. Well, by that extension, neither was Dr. King. But I am proud that General Lee did lead Mississippi's troops in battle, regardless of what side of the war we fought on.

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tstauffer 1 year, 9 months ago

@Darryl (a.) MLK Day is a National holiday, not a state one (b.) MLK did work in the State of Mississippi and fostered others to do the same.

And celebrating MLK day is not any form of racism nor does it "revise" anything; your own lens for viewing these things, friend, is cloudy.

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tstauffer 1 year, 9 months ago

@richaoj When you inherit something, you then own it. From what I've read, Lee's father-in-law's wishes were to free his slaves upon his death unless it meant financial troubles for the household, in which case they could be held for 5 years; Lee apparently thought things were bad enough that he fought to keep them enslaved for the full term.

I've not researched the veracity of what I've read online in depth, but it's my understanding that Lee had ledgers in which he documented his slave transactions on behalf of the household, he was known to have placed bounties on runaway slaves and he clearly lived, with his wife, in a household where slaves worked.

We do know from even the quotes above that he felt the "discipline" slaves endured would improve their race (not to the equal of whites, of course), and some accounts suggest he meted out that discipline with the lash to whose-ever those slaves were who served in his household...

Also, Donna will speak for herself above, but I don't think she was personally calling you a racist. Hers was a general call to arms to people who don't think we should hold up the old icons of the South simply because they've been held up in the past.

I can see that you're a reasonable person looking to discuss this and I'm enjoying the discussion with you.

As for Robert E. Lee day, I firmly believe we have to do more than wait and pray, as Lee himself might recommend -- I think education into the true nature of the man and his accomplishments might change the nature of the holiday sooner. After this thread I'm very interested in learning more about what Mississippi teaches about Robert E. Lee... and how accurate it really is. There's a few generations worth of fiction about the Lost Cause that is clearly still being unravelled and it would be interested to hear what the schools have to say, both public and private, about this over-idealized individual.

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Tom_Head 1 year, 9 months ago

If Robert E. Lee wasn't the Confederacy's equivalent to the Supreme Allied Commander, nobody would be talking about a holiday in his honor. Robert E. Lee is a white supremacist holiday, period, and nobody who supports it while claiming not to be a racist will ever have my respect—because (much like Lee) they're doing horrible things while trying to get credit for privately thinking nice things.

If we must create a holiday for a white guy who opposed slavery, let's make one for Elijah Lovejoy. Unlike that pathetic old coward Lee, Lovejoy cared more about standing by his convictions than he did about kissing rich white people's asses—and he paid the ultimate price for it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elijah_P...

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johnlear 1 year, 9 months ago

TOM, thanks for posting the link on elijah lovejoy......... i had never heard of him and i enjoyed reading that. i also placed it on my FB page....... too bad ms. doesn't have more "progressive" christians such as he and jesus were....ron

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darryl 1 year, 9 months ago

For Tom, I do not ascribe to being a white supremacist simply because I wish to continue celebrating Robert E. Lee's birthday rather than Dr. King. It is, however, your opinion otherwise. Fine. For the record, I think that our State commemorated this holiday not to continue to promote slavery or whatever but to celebrate a period of Mississippi's history in which we stood up to the federal government. To cast that aside in favor of the national holiday celebrating Dr. King, to me, is unfortunate, retrograde pandering. Makes me wanna get a big truck with mud flaps and a horn that blares "Dixie" at noon on that venerable Monday in January. (Not really - I detest big trucks.)

I believe a parallel can be drawn from this debate to the debate raging over the Second Amendment. Had this Amendment not been in place, Southerners would have potentially been unable to "bear arms" against the tyrannical federal government. See, while in the main, our national government has tended to act on behalf of all of our interests as a collection of states, it is probably not too much of a stretch to envision a similar situation in the future. For a modern reference, I point you to the "Arab Spring" revolts.

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tstauffer 1 year, 9 months ago

For the record, I think that our State commemorated this holiday not to continue to promote slavery or whatever but to celebrate a period of Mississippi's history in which we stood up to the federal government...

...for the express purpose of continuing slavery. It's right there in the articles of secession.

Let's be clear... there's no Constitutional right to secession, and the South very pointedly avoided saying they had a natural right to rebellion, because they knew how ridiculous it would be to assert that they had the God-Given Right to Be Free... for the express purpose of keeping other people as slaves.

So, Mississippi "stood up to the Federal Government" in order to continue slavery. If the State of Mississippi honors Robert E. Lee for "standing up" to the Federal government, as you say, then we're honoring him specifically because he was fighting and killing the Feds in order to continue the institution of slavery.

I therefore humbly submit that it's an extraordinarily crappy reason for a holiday.

Meanwhile, what planet are you from that causes you to believe that the Second Amendment gives you a right to armed insurrection? It gives you no such right. The Constitution doesn't have a succession clause (or amendment) and it doesn't have an insurrection clause (or amendment).

The argument that the Second Amendment somehow gives you the right to armed rebellion seems to have only one real benefit -- it's an interesting way to try and get the government to "well-regulate" your gun ownership a bit more closely. Presumably that isn't the goal.

To bring us back to the topic, the Constitution does have a 14th Amendment -- and U.S. Code has a Civil Rights Act of 1964 -- both of which were, in part, products of the folks discussed up-thread (Lincoln and King) who are more worthy of a state-sanctioned holiday than is the good, ol' General Lee*.

(*I think of the Duke boys every time I type that name.)

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darryl 1 year, 9 months ago

Todd, I never proposed that the Second Amendment gave us the right to an armed insurrection. I merely pointed out it give us the ability, legality notwithstanding. And while there are no provisions within the Constitution to allow for state secession (spell check), the states GASP actually seceded and set up their own government. The fact that the South lost the war was the natural and predicted consequence.

(I think of the Duke boys every time I type that name.)*

Of course you do...

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brjohn9 1 year, 9 months ago

One of the most pernicious arguments people make on these matters is the moral relativism advanced by richaoj. For one thing, not everyone was racist, as Tom's example illustrates. Obviously, racial equality was conceivable, though unpopular. Moreover, the relativist argument necessarily ignores the views of black people, which is a nice sleight of hand.

But the point I really want to make is that racism has always been wrong, throughout human history. When Thomas Jefferson wrote that people have unalienable rights, he was correct. It's just that he didn't understand what that actually meant--that it applied to slaves as well.

This tension exploded in a remarkable speech given by Confederate Vice President Alexander Stevens, in 1861, commonly known as the Cornerstone Speech. Like the Articles of Secession, Stevens' speech devastates the argument that the Civil War wasn't really about slavery or racism. In essence, Stevens argued that Jefferson was wrong about liberty, because true liberty is racist.

"The prevailing ideas entertained by [Jefferson] and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old Constitution were that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally and politically ... Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. ... Our new Government is founded upon exactly the opposite ideas; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and moral condition."

Lee fought on behalf of these principles, and the state of Mississippi honors him for it.

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brjohn9 1 year, 9 months ago

You also are completely ignoring the history of how Robert E. Lee Day was enacted. The state of Mississippi adopted the holiday in 1910, a time of brutal violence against African Americans, with an average of 62 lynchings a year. By the way, Mississippi's beloved flag was adopted in the same period, in 1894. It is no coincidence that these symbols were adopted at the height of Jim Crow, amid monstrous violence against black people.

When you talk about how these symbols are hallowed traditions, you may not realize that the view you are expressing is unavoidably racist. It goes without saying that black people had no say in adopting these symbols, even though they made up about half the population. I think it's safe to say that black people would not have supported enacting the holiday then any more than they celebrate the holiday today. Thus, the holiday is inherently racist. But these symbols always represented white supremacy. That was the whole point of the tradition they honor. Whether Lee himself was racist--and he was--or a good man is beside the point.

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richaoj 1 year, 9 months ago

Br. John - Yes I believe in moral relativism (but that is not the point about Gen. Lee that I am trying to make). I believe that we should judge people's actions according to the circumstances of their actions. A poor man stealing bread to feed his family is patently not the same as a rich person stealing bread for the fun of it--their moral culpability cannot be the same in my mind despite their actions being the same. I don't see anything dishonest about looking at the surrounding circumstances when attempting to understand people--I would argue that it is inherently dishonest to look at people without considering their circumstances.

In my mind a George Wallace is certainly different than a Robert E. Lee is different than a Thomas Jefferson. There is no doubt that each one was racist and each made decisions regarding race that we would find abominable today. But George Wallace is certainly 'worse' than Thomas Jefferson. Why? Because of the circumstances. George Wallace was fighting against the prevailing moral judgement of the time towards racial equality, wheras Thomas Jefferson was gave up on fighting the prevailing wisdom of the time and compromised to accept slavery. Robert E. Lee is somewhere in the middle--he simply didn't fight against the prevailing wisdom of the time. Certainly there are those that did and those people should be recognized for their heroism.

When I look at President Obama, I can either choose to judge him by the things that he does that I think are deplorable--the drone program and the indiscriminate murder of civilians in Pakistan and other countries. But President Obama is more than that. Certainly he is responsible for actions when considered in a vacuum are terrible--but become more understandable (but not excusable) in the context of him inheriting two misguided wars with Republicans who are too quick to call calls for peace appeasement of the the enemy.

But without excusing his actions, I can choose to look at Obama as more than just one thing. While he hasn't been the progressive fighter than I think many of us hoped he would be, he certainly has made positive impacts in healthcare and in fighting for other progressive causes, and he certainly has changed the conversation back towards fairness. We'll see about his second term.

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richaoj 1 year, 9 months ago

My point about Lee was the same--that people are more than just one thing. I think there is something about the Southern soul separate from its racist past that bears celebrating. You and I might argue about whether he is a good representative of that southern soul--and that would be a fair argument. I personally have never actually celebrated Robert E. Lee day and I don't really care whether it is abolished or not. But I think it's dishonest too look at these figures in the past and write them off as monsters or racists and stop at that. In doing that, we attempt to reaffirm our own belief systems, saying "oh, he must not be the same as me, I would never be that way" when in reality we all have the potential to do terrible things as well. And in denying that part about ourselves we blind ourselves to the tragedies of today like the drone attacks.

I am capable of racism, but I am not a racist. I am capable of murder, but I am not a murderer. In in understanding this about myself, I try to empathize with and understand, but not excuse, those that we judge to be morally culpable. I have tried to give up any illusion that I am morally superior to anyone else, but realize that perhaps I am more a product of my time, my upbringing, and my own choices.

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richaoj 1 year, 9 months ago

One last point--Thomas Jefferson did know what inalienable rights meant--it might surprise you to know that in his original first draft of the declaration of independence he had strong anti-slavery language that was later taken out to get everyone on board. Despite him knowing that slavery was wrong he continued to own slaves afterward. Here is the paragraph from the indictment section original draft that was taken out:

he has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating it’s most sacred rights of life & liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. this piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidel powers, is the warfare of the CHRISTIAN king of Great Britain. determined to keep open a market where MEN should be bought & sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce: and that this assemblage of horrors might want no fact of distinguished die, he is now exciting those very people to rise in arms among us, and to purchase that liberty of which he has deprived them, by murdering the people upon whom he also obtruded them; thus paying off former crimes committed against the liberties of one people, with crimes which he urges them to commit against the lives of another.

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brjohn9 1 year, 8 months ago

Rich, I think you're conflating distinct issues here. For one, your example of President Obama doesn't work well because that only suggests that we should consider all of a man's actions when we evaluate his legacy. No one is suggesting that we look only at Lee's treatment of slaves and defense of the Confederacy. Rather, we are arguing that these things shouldn't be dismissed.

Second, I haven't seen anyone call Lee a monster, and your dialog about moral superiority is nothing but projection. Those of us who object to a holiday honoring Lee do not object out of some motivation to feel superior. Nor is it based on historical naivete. I readily acknowledge that Lee was a complex figure, and there is much we can admire about him. He compares favorably with a villain like Nathan Bedford Forrest, for instance.

The issue is a) should the state of Mississippi honor Lee with a state holiday, and b) what does it mean that the state does so? You seem to acknowledge that the holiday is problematic, but you continue to defend Lee as if we are arguing that he should be condemned for all time. But I don't see it that way at all. As a man, Lee reminds me of Erwin Rommel. Rommel was a brilliant general and apparently a decent man. He even went so far as to conspire in an assassination attempt against Hitler. But what message would it send if Germany established a holiday honoring Rommel? That people are complex, and there is good in men who fight for evil causes? I really doubt it.

As for relativism, you seem to be refuting yourself with the passage you cite from Jefferson. Whether racism was widely acknowledged as immoral, many people certainly understood that slavery was a grave evil. Jefferson's hypocrisy is an eternal blight on his legacy. If Lee was as ambivalent about slavery as you suggest, it only undermines your case, because he fought for its preservation anyway.

We can study a man like Lee and acknowledge his complexity. But honoring him with a state holiday is another matter entirely. We must keep foremost in our minds the long oppression of African Americans by the state of Mississippi and her (white) people. Black people had no say in establishing this holiday. It was enacted at a time of horrifying violence against them. Officially honoring a man who fought for the preservation of slavery essentially embraces this tradition of racism and oppression. It only looks acceptable if you render blacks invisible. That is why I say it doesn't really matter if Lee was a good man overall. The Confederacy was evil, and the Jim Crow power structure that chose to honor Lee with a holiday was evil. Thus, the holiday should be abolished.

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