More than a century after the South surrendered at Appomattox, the Virginia Senate today agreed to integrate a state holiday honoring two Confederate generals who fought to preserve slavery with one honoring a civil rights leader.
"It is ironic," agreed Sen. L. Douglas Wilder (D-Richmond), the Senate's only black member, who introduced the resolution that will honor the late Martin Luther King Jr. on Virginia's Lee-Jackson Day.
By a vote of 30 to 8, the Senate resolved that the holiday celebrating generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson will also pay tribute to King. The holiday that falls on the third Monday in January is currently a paid holiday for state and local government employes.
The resolution, which must be approved by the House of Delegates, did not sail through the former capital of the Confederacy today without opposition. Sen. William Parkerson (D-Henrico) called honoring King on the same day as "two southern heroes" inappropriate.
Parkerson favored honoring King on New Year's Day as the General Assembly has done for the last three years. That day is especially appropriated, said Parkerson, because it is also the anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation.
But Sen. Wilder, who sponsored the resolution three years ago to honor King on New Year's Day, said a date in the middle of January was more fitting since it is closer to King's Jan. 15 birthday. Two weeks ago, when Wilder announced he had submitted the new resolution, he explained to his colleagues that he had always intended to seek Jan. 15 as a state holiday for King.
"I figured that if I could get the camel's head in the tent first, the rest of the camel would go in easier," said Wilder. Because a separate holiday for King would cost the state an estimated $4 million a year in holiday pay, Wilder agreed to the compromise that placed King in the company of Lee and Jackson.