The irony of a four-day weekend

Martin Luther King & Robert E. Lee: Opposites united in a common long weekend

It is an irony that — when considered — boggles the mind. State and local employees get a four-day weekend starting Friday because the Virginia General Assembly in 2000 decided to combine holidays from two opposites of a philosophical divide.

Friday is Lee-Jackson Day, a state holiday celebrated in Virginia in memory of Confederate soldiers Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. Monday is Martin Luther King Day, a federal holiday celebrated in memory of the slain civil rights leader.

Federal employees — and those working in some businesses — get a three day weekend in memory of a civil rights leader who fought to end oppression of African-Americans. Virginia State and Floyd County employees get a four day weekend that begins honoring those who fought in a war to continue — among other things — slavery and the oppression of African-Americans and ends with a holiday for a man who lost his life trying to end oppression that remained prevalent in our society a century later.

Virginia began celebrating Lee’s birthday (Jan. 19) as a state holiday in 1889. The Commonwealth later added the Jan. 21 birthday of Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson to the holiday and it became “Lee-Jackson Day.” In 1983, Congress added King’s birthday of Jan. 15 to the list of federal holidays but it remains today as one of the least-recognized national holidays with several states and only 33 percent of employers surveyed in 2007 giving employees the day off. A survey in Virginia found that fewer than 10 percent of the state’s private employers recognize Lee-Jackson Day and just 21 percent give employees a day off for Martin Luther King Day. Virginia tried to get around the issue by recognizing King’s birthday in combination with New Year’s Day but, after a long debate, recognized the official federal holiday.

You gotta wonder is those who do get the four-day weekend appreciate the irony.

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2 thoughts on “The irony of a four-day weekend”

  1. Doug, perhaps there’s less irony than you think.

    Jackson showed great compassion to slaves in his home town, Lexington. He even taught a Sunday school class for slaves. Lee owned no salves at the beginning of the war and favored emancipation to all slaves willing to serve in the war. His pre-war writings show that he thought slavery “a moral & political evil”. I doubt either Lee or Jackson would have fought a war to see slavery continue. They fought for the sovereign and constitutional right of self-determination for the Commonwealth they loved. Don’t forget, US Grant was served by his wife’s slaves who were freed in 1865. Yet we honor Grant on a $50 bill.

    There was a lot of “bad” in America in the 1860s, the 1960s and today. As bad as some things are, I, like Lee and Jackson, will still fight to keep the freedom I cherish and endeavor to stand firm in peace with King to see that a day will come when all men are truly judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin.

    Lee, Jackson and King were three decent men trying to do right in very difficult times. I’m glad to see them honored on the same weekend. By the way…I’ll be working.
    Best to you, John Paul

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