Gov. James S. Gilmore III (R) announced today that he wants Virginia's holiday honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to stay where it is--on the third Monday in January--and a new legal holiday for Confederate heroes Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson to come three days earlier, on Friday.
Gilmore issued details of legislation, now being drafted by the General Assembly, that would put into law his idea for splitting up the combined holiday that has honored the two Civil War generals and the slain civil rights leader since 1985.
Gilmore surprised lawmakers last week by saying that King deserved a special day of his own. Lee-Jackson-King Day coincides with the federal King holiday.
"The separate contributions and separate heroic deeds of these men warrant individual holidays," Gilmore said today. "It is long overdue for these men to be honored with separate holidays marking their distinct lives."
A bipartisan and and biracial group of lawmakers will sponsor Gilmore's holiday bill, the governor said. In the House of Delegates, William P. Robinson Jr. (D-Norfolk), son of a famed civil rights champion, will cosponsor the measure along with R. Lee Ware Jr. (R-Powhatan), a teacher and student of Civil War history, and Terri Lynne Suit (R-Virginia Beach), a freshman elected in the GOP-majority wave last fall.
L. Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth) will be a cosponsor in the Senate, along with Emmett W. Hanger Jr. (R-Augusta) and Stephen D. Newman (R-Lynchburg).
Gilmore also announced that his budget staff had calculated the government's cost for a new state holiday at $900,000, most of that at agencies that must operate around-the-clock.
Lee's Jan. 19 birth date was a state holiday for decades and long included Jackson, born on Jan. 21. King was born on Jan. 15.
L. Douglas Wilder, a former state senator, lieutenant governor and the nation's first elected black governor, tried for years to win recognition for King, succeeding in 1984.
The first Lee-Jackson-King Day was celebrated the following year, on the third Monday in January. In 1986, that day became the federal King holiday. Wilder, a Gilmore friend, was instrumental in the governor's call for separate holidays.
Some fans of Lee and Jackson grumbled today about Gilmore moving their heroes around the calendar, but passage in the General Assembly seems all but assured, given the governor's support, the bipartisan sponsors and the undisputed Republican majority in the legislature.
Robert W. Barbour, of Roanoke, head of the Sons of Confederate Veterans in Virginia, said moving up the holiday for Lee and Jackson put more distance between the commemoration and their actual birth dates.
"I'd just as soon they keep the holiday the way it was," Barbour said at a Capitol news conference he held to discuss the torching of a Lee banner in Richmond on Monday, this year's Lee-Jackson-King Day.
"After all, it's a Virginia holiday," Barbour said. "Who are the Virginians here?"
Ware, whose passion for history led him to name the youngest of his four children Jeb Stuart after the Confederate cavalry general, said he asked Gilmore's office to make him a bill sponsor after he heard the governor's State of the Commonwealth address.
Ware called the separate holidays a reasonable compromise and vital reminder of Virginia's past. "It's important not to forget," Ware said. "Amnesia is one of the greatest enemies of all of us."
CAPTION: Robert W. Barbour, of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, opposes the change.