MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Alabama and Mississippi closed most government offices Monday for Confederate Memorial Day as efforts have stalled to abolish state holidays that honor the old Confederacy.
Legislation has been introduced in the ongoing Alabama legislative session to remove, alter or rename Confederate-related holidays, but the effort has so far gained little traction.
Camille Bennett, the founder of Project Say Something, an organization that has worked for the removal of Confederate monuments in Alabama, said the determination to keep Confederate holidays comes at the same time Alabama lawmakers push legislation banning so called “ divisive concepts” from being taught in state classrooms and diversity training for state workers.
“On one side, you have white conservative men defining what divisive is and what it means. … At the same time, you are honoring the Confederacy, which in itself is a divisive concept. It’s really hypocritical, quite tone deaf,” Bennett said.
An Alabama Senate committee last week rejected a proposal to separate the joint state holiday celebrating Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and slain civil rights leader the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. on the same day.
“We’re trying to separate the holidays of two men whose ideologies were totally separate, from one end of the totem pole to the other. One believed in justice and fairness for all, and another believed in slavery,” state Sen. Vivian Davis Figures said.
Figures’ bill would have kept Lee’s holiday but moved it to Columbus Day in October. “Whoever wants to honor either man will have their own day,” she said.
The vote split along racial lines, Figures said at the end of the meeting, with white Republicans voting against it and Black Democrats voting for it.
Several Southern states have ended or renamed Confederate holidays. Louisiana in 2022 removed Robert E. Lee Day and Confederate Memorial Day from the list of state holidays. Georgia in 2015 renamed Confederate Memorial Day to “State Holiday.” Arkansas in 2017 ended the practice of commemorating Lee and King on the same day.
Mississippi Public Broadcasting on Monday had historians read Mississippi’s secession declaration, which makes clear that slavery was the central issue.
Mary Jane Meadows, a member of the north Mississippi chapter of the Indivisible advocacy group, told Mississippi Public Broadcasting that the group protested Confederate Memorial Day last year and planned to do the same for 2023.
“That means that 25,000 or more state employees have a day off with pay courtesy of the Mississippi taxpayers, 39% of whom are Black persons who are voters and taxpayers,” Meadows said.
Some government offices in Mississippi remained open Monday, including courts in majority-Black Hinds County.
Bennett said she believes the continued recognition of Confederate holidays “speaks to the blatant disregard of the humanity of Black Alabamians.”
“We experienced a Holocaust, right. We experienced our families being ripped apart, and there is a celebration saying, ‘We wish things could have stayed the same,’ ” Bennett said.