It’s sometimes problematic when contemporary values are deployed to judge another age’s prominent figures; often those figures fare poorly in the process. But champions of a cause whose organizing principle was the right of states to retain slavery? That is too much. For many whites and blacks alike, it is simply preposterous to expect that Confederate generals should continue to be regarded as objects of veneration, let alone be honored by a state holiday.
Democrats in Richmond, including Gov. Ralph Northam, have backed legislation that would empower localities to remove statues of Confederate figures, which are also symbols of divisiveness; some could be relocated to museums. Similarly, Democrats have pushed a measure through the Virginia Senate, with the vote of just one of the 19 Republican senators — who later said she had voted with the Democrats by mistake — that would scrap Lee-Jackson Day, observed the Friday before Martin Luther King Jr. Day, as a state holiday and establish Election Day as a new one. That’s a win-win solution. The House of Delegates should follow suit.
Already, many of Virginia’s biggest cities and most populous counties no longer observe Lee-Jackson Day, treating it as a regular workday for public employees. They include Fairfax, Loudoun and Arlington counties and the cities of Charlottesville, Lynchburg, Norfolk, Newport News, Hampton and Blacksburg as well as Richmond, capital of the Confederacy, where nearly half the population is African American.
Giving employees a pass on work for Election Day is a much more sensible alternative, which explains why many countries do it. Without a doubt, that would make it easier for many people to get to the polls; it might also boost overall turnout, which is significantly lower in the United States than in many Western democracies.
In any event, an Election Day holiday would advance social cohesion, which is becoming a scarcer commodity. Keeping Lee-Jackson Day on Virginia’s calendar does precisely the opposite.