RICHMOND — The Virginia Senate on Tuesday voted to scrap a state holiday honoring two Confederate generals and create a new holiday on Election Day, another tremor in the Democratic earthquake rattling the former capital of the Confederacy.
For more than a century, Virginia has set aside a day in January to honor Gens. Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. The General Assembly made Jan. 19, Lee’s birthday, a holiday in 1890. In 1904, it turned the holiday into Lee-Jackson Day, adding Jackson, who was born Jan. 21.
In the mid-1980s, the legislature added the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to the mix, billing “Lee-Jackson-King Day” as an homage to “defenders of causes.”
King’s holiday was separated from the other two in 2000.
Virginia and other Southern states have been wrestling in recent years with whether to remove Confederate tributes from the calendar and the public square. Plans to pull a statute of Lee from a downtown Charlottesville park were the focus of a white-supremacist rally in 2017 that led to a counterprotester’s death.
This year, the General Assembly will consider bills that would give cities and counties the authority to relocate war memorials, part of sweeping changes underway on issues including gun laws, gay rights and women’s rights.
A number of Virginia cities and counties did away with Lee-Jackson Day in recent years, but the legislature resisted those efforts until this session — the first in decades with the House and the Senate, along with the governor’s mansion, under Democratic control.
The Senate passed the holiday measure with limited debate. Sen. Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth), who co-sponsored the bill with Sen. Adam P. Ebbin (Alexandria), spoke only to the virtues of creating an Election Day holiday, which she said “will make it easier for all Virginians to vote.”
Sen. Mark J. Peake (R-Lynchburg) made the lone plea for continuing to recognize Lee and Jackson as part of what he called the state’s long and “very complicated history.”
“We can promote everyone, we can promote diversity,” Peake said. “We can add things without taking away or tearing down other things.”
Election Day is a holiday for state workers in Maryland, but not in the District.
Erin Cox and Fenit Nirappil contributed to this report.