That simple fact was enough last week to enrage black lawmakers, bemuse others and illustrate why the oldest continuous legislative body in the Western Hemisphere is unable to resolve its perennial debate over whether to honor Martin Luther King Jr. with a state holiday.
The latest solution has come from Senate Majority Leader Hunter Andrews (D-Norfolk), who recently introduced a bill to replace Columbus Day with a Notables Day honoring 71 historical figures who have contributed to life in the commonwealth. Besides Jefferson Davis, Daniel Boone and King, the proposed holiday also would include Columbus along with such previously unheralded notables as King James I, Amerigo Vespucci, Edgar Allan Poe and Pocahontas. Twenty-three cosponsors, confident that Andrews had managed to placate every conceivable voting block in the state, signed on.
"It was like being against motherhood. He even found some obscure Jewish sculptor to put on there," said Sen. Elliot Schewel (D-Lynchburg), one of two Jewish state senators.
But if Andrews hoped to defuse the explosive holiday issue, his plan backfired. Last year, the issue produced an unusually fierce lobbying battle when former Republican Gov. John N. Dalton vetoed a bill declaring King's birthday a state holiday after being swamped with more than 7,500 letters of opposition and protests from influential conservative businessmen.
This year, with Democrat Charles S. Robb, who has said he would sign a bill making King's birthday a state holiday, in the governor's chair, the legislature's five-man black caucus had been optimistically plotting their latest strategy, only to be caught off guard by the Notables Day proposal.
That bill not only puts King in the company of Davis, who fought to preserve slavery, but also Carter Glass, who for 26 years in the U.S. Senate championed the segregationist cause.
"It's horrible," said Sen. L. Douglas Wilder (D-Richmond), the first and only black state senator since Reconstruction and the leader of the fight for a King holiday.
"I thought it was ludicruous," added Del. William Robinson (D-Norfolk). "It's totally inconsistent to honor a man of Dr. Martin Luther King's stature at the same time you're giving recognition to some of those people."
The proposal also drew objections from Sen. Evelyn M. Hailey (D-Norfolk), who complained that it gave short shrift to women. "It's true that he has Pocahontas and Queen Elizabeth I and Queen Mary, who was the cofounder of William and Mary College, in there," said Hailey. "But for the most part, it was typical male history."
Hailey wants "about 12 to 15" women added to the notables list, including Martha Washington and Grace Sherwood, a 17th century witch.
Andrews, an amateur historian who says he culled the bill's names from his own library, defended the diversity of people on his list. "We've got Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver and James Bland, who was a black man who wrote the state song," he said. "We have Thomas Jefferson and John Marshall on there, and I don't see any better company you can be in."
Andrews said he is also willing to include more women and even delete King's name. But given the volatility of holiday politics in Virginia, some black lawmakers said the push for a Notables Day could be a serious setback to their campaign for a Martin Luther King Day.
That campaign reached its peak last session when Wilder skillfully maneuvered a bill through the Senate by attaching King's name to Lee-Jackson Day, a January holiday honoring the Civil War heros. By the time the bill made it to the House for a hearing, it had created an uproar in the former Confederate capital.
"The Lee-Jackson people came out of the ground . . . ," recalled Wilder. "The ultra-ultra-antis, the sons and daughters of the Confederacy. They said, 'Any other day, any other day, not our day.' "
Wilder immediately offered to oblige and suggested that King be honored on his Jan. 15 birthday, which is the date Wilder wanted in the first place. In that form, the bill passed but was vetoed by Dalton. Opponents argued that King doesn't deserve a holiday because he was not from Virginia and that a new holiday would cost the state an estimated $5 million.
The persistent Wilder, however, has come up with what he calls "a two-pronged attack" to counter the fiscal complaints. He has introduced two bills, one making King's birthday a separate holiday and another giving state workers the option of taking off King's birthday as long as they work on one of several other holidays, including Confederate Memorial Day.
"It's the damnedest thing," Wilder said with a laugh. "But that's the legislative process."