On Saturday, Lexington, Va. will again be dressed up with Confederate flags and men and women in period outfits will parade through the city for the state’s largest, annual celebration of the birthdays of Robert E. Lee (Jan. 19, 1807) and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson (Jan. 21, 1824). Both men have strong ties to the town. Jackson taught at Virginia Military Institute before the Civil War and Lee was president of what was then Washington College following the war. It is now Washington and Lee University .
Both men are also buried there; Lee at the university and Jackson at the Stonewall Jackson Memorial Cemetery.
Lee-Jackson Day is an official state holiday in Virginia—Friday is a day off for state and county workers—with recognition of Lee’s birthday dating from 1889 and the addition of Jackson’s name in 1904. When Rev. Martin Luther King’s birthday (Jan. 15, 1929) became a federal holiday in 1983, Virginia marked all three birthdays on the same date rather than give state workers two days off. It was an awkward situation that was finally resolved when the state joined the federal government in marking King’s birthday on the third Monday of the month.
The Lexington celebration has been expanded this year to include a free symposium on Friday with a discussion of what the Confederate cause meant to Lee and Jackson and their relevance to Confederate history today.
On Saturday, a wreath laying and military salute is scheduled at 10 a.m. at Jackson’s gravesite, followed by the parade that will end at Lee Chapel on the university grounds where a noontime service will be held. Because the chapel is very small, an additional event is planned at noon at VMI Marshall Hall with a presentation by Jackson’s widow Anna (as played by Kelly Atkins Hinson).
Other events include a luncheon at the Virginia Horse Center and an evening ball at the same location, both of which charge an admission fee.
Last year, the Lexington City Council voted to ban all but the national flag from town-owned poles although there were strong objections by the local Sons of Confederate Veterans as well as others. Previously, the Confederate national and war flags had hung all through downtown for the annual birthday celebration. This year, members of heritage groups are expected to stand at the 33 poles and hold a Confederate flag as a protest against the council’s action.