Friday, December 11, 2009

Lee-Jackson-King-Coakley

As a Southerner in childhood, I knew January 19th as a holiday. Here in 2010, it happens to be the final in the special election to replace Sen. Ted Kennedy (vote Martha Coakley, certainly).

In elementary school, I lived in Danville, Virginia, and knew that date as a holiday, Robert E. Lee's birthday. Also, that city is just a couple of miles above North Carolina in the middle of that wide state. It had a particular stake in the date, serving as the capital of the Confederacy for the last 13 days leading to Lee's surrender. In my youth, the pubic library that I visited constantly was in the mansion of Major William Sutherlin and had served briefly as the seat of government when the C.S.A. cabinet met there.

Virginia had a day for Lee from the late 19th Century. That was no surprise. Even President Abraham Lincoln respected the head general of the Confederate armies and had offered him that role for the union version first. I also doubt anyone there was surprised early in the 20th Century when Virginia doubled the honorific by adding Stonewall Jackson to that holiday. After all, his birthday was only two days after Lee's.

Yet, even as a former Virginian, I was appalled when that commonwealth tucked the national holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. into the same. The resulting Lee-Jackson-King Day was legal from 1984 into 2000.

Disingenuous Virginia politicians said that this only made sense not to duplicate and gang holidays after President Ronald Reagan set January 15, 1983 as the first King Day. I think we all know an insult when we see one on the calendar.

The year before the Virginia legislature corrected this boner, the Washington Post spoke with some of the political players there on it. A Virginia Commonwealth University history page details some of the hoo-ha leading up to and following the separation of the holidays in 2000.

Here and now, I think we can be pretty confident that the date to hold the special election to replace our Senator was coincidental to any of this holiday history. In fact, I doubt Gov. Deval Patrick knew of Lee-Jackson (erstwhile King) Day. He surely was driven by Secretary of State William Galvin's mandates for when the election had to be complete.

Still, the coincidence lends itself to musing and perhaps augury. It it auspicious to replace our great progressive leader on this day? Does this bespeak of any special duty for the almost certain to be Sen. Martha Coakley? Does a day draped in history and honor and contention and the resolution have any powerful meaning?

Nah, but it is amusing to note.


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