Taking a Look at Confederate Holidays in Alabama

Apr 24, 2017

Decorated graves of Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington DC
Credit PBS.org

Today is Confederate Memorial Day. Many across the South will recognize Confederate soldiers who fell during the Civil War. It’s one of three of these uniquely Southern holidays.  There is some controversy that surrounds these days of observance in Alabama and elsewhere in the South.

 

Confederate Memorial Day and the birthdays of Robert E. Lee Day and Jefferson Davis make up the trio of holidays related to the Civil War.

 

Steve Murray is the director of the Alabama Archives and History. He says Confederate Memorial Day has a long history…   

Steve Murray, Director of Alabama Archives and History

           

“Unofficially, there are accounts of events happening as early as 1867 here in Montgomery where the ladies of Montgomery would hold events at cemeteries and other locations, affairs that remember those who died in service to the Confederacy.”

Jimmy Hill plans to observe Confederate Memorial Day. He’s the Alabama Division Commander of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Hill says his group uses Confederate Memorial Day as a way to continue that tradition…

“We do the same thing. We’ll put a wreath at the monument in Montgomery, at the state capitol building at the Alabama Soldiers’ Monument, and there will be a wreath placed and a service put on by the United Daughters of the Confederacy.”

Hill says it is no different than what descendants of those who fought for the North do for their ancestors…

“They were called the Grand Army of the Republic. They did a similar celebration themselves, they put flowers and everything on their veterans’ graves, and it’s just a way for us to remember those who did fight.”

He says it is the people they want to remember…

 

“They went to war for various reasons, and we’re trying to remember those who went out and fought and died for what they believed in, and so it’s very important for us to keep that tradition alive.”

“No, I don’t celebrate Robert E. Lee Day, it’s just coincidental that it falls on the same day as Martin Luther King Day.”

Alabama State Representative Alvin Holmes

   

That’s Representative Alvin Holmes, of Alabama’s 78th District. We spoke to him previously about the celebration of Confederate holidays. He has been a longtime opponent of Confederate memorials and the holidays themselves.

“Because the Confederacy represents slavery and oppression toward black people, they fought a civil war in order to maintain the institution of slavery -- to keep my folks’ parents in slavery. The Confederate holiday of Robert E. Lee Day or Jefferson Davis’ Birthday don’t mean nothing to me -- don’t mean nothing to black people. It’s a symbol of slavery and oppression.”

Holmes led the charge in Alabama to remove the Confederate flag from the state Capitol. Then-Governor Robert Bentley had the flags removed entirely from the capitol grounds including around the Soldiers’ Monument.

 

Lawmakers are currently considering a bill to protect historical sites and monuments in Alabama. The hope is that the bill would also protect some monuments to civil rights leaders. One of Alabama’s neighbors to the west is spearheading the concept… 

         

Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson signs bill separating Martin Luther King Junior Day and Robert E Lee day
Credit arkansasbusiness.com

“This is a day that has been well over two years in the making. For some, it’s been a longer historical ride than that…”

That’s Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson.  That state recognized Robert E. Lee Day on the same day as Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. But last month, Hutchinson signed a bill signaling his state’s move to separate Robert E. Lee Day from Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Hutchinson says there was a twist while he worked on his bill…

“To be quite honest, I expected this debate would divide us. Instead, during the debate, we listened to each other, and the discussion brought us together.”

Martin Luther King Junior

He says people need to look not only at themselves, but what others have gone through as well…

“This is an education bill in which the discussion educated each of us, and we learned that history needs to be viewed not just from our own lens, but through the eyes and experiences of others.”

         

Robert E. Lee

When asked if Alabama would be doing away with Confederate holidays or moving them like Arkansas did, Steve Murray says they’re most likely here to stay for now…

“I would not predict it anytime soon, I think that there is enough sentiment and enough desire on the part of people who work hard to preserve remembrance of those who died in that war who mean there will be official recognition of that anniversary.”

The conversation about the recognition of the holidays will continue, however difficult, between those who feel they represent a time of oppression and those who seek to remember their heritage.