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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Column: MLK and Robert E. Lee should not be celebrated together

    Martin Luther King Jr. Day became a federal holiday in 1986 to honor and remember King’s invaluable life’s work as an advocate for civil rights.

    In three of our nation’s states, however, this holiday shares the spotlight with the recognition of another key figure in American history—Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

    Arkansas, Mississippi and Alabama opted to share the celebration of King’s life with Lee’s years ago. This year, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson is supporting a law that would separate the two holidays.

    “It’s important that that day be distinguished and separate and focused on that civil rights struggle and what he personally did in that effort,” Hutchinson said in a news conference earlier this month, referring to the work of King.

    The idea of these two men sharing a holiday in the first place is contradictory. A man who was one of the key figures in a movement in our country’s past that promoted the immoral institution of slavery should not be celebrated alongside one who fought to end racism in America.

    King was able to fight for his cause while advocating nonviolence and understanding of all, while Lee defended his opinions behind muskets and the power to command his soldiers to obliterate men who had not long ago been their fellow citizens.

    While Lee was defending the Confederacy, he was by no means a man lacking intelligence or leadership capabilities. In fact, according to The Guardian, for many people in Arkansas, Lee is still admired today for fighting with dignity for the South. Many in Arkansas and other states believe Lee played an integral role in the making of the South’s heritage and “ancestry.”

    My question is: why would anyone want to celebrate a figure who supported such an ignorance-fueled “heritage,” or even celebrate the Confederacy in general? The Confederacy stands for values that are not only unethical, but also simply un-American.

    There is no fault in wanting to understand and recognize whatever “ancestry” one may think they come from; but there is fault when that “ancestry”—which represented some of the darkest and most shameful times of our country’s history—is celebrated rather than acknowledged with the intent of learning from the mistakes of the past.

    That’s what the Confederate States of America was—one enormous, depressing and quite frankly, embarrassing mistake of America’s past.

    With that said, according to a Reuters article, the fairly recent shooting of nine black worshippers in a church in Charleston, South Carolina, in June 2015, has sparked another flame for the discussion of racism still prevalent in present-day America.

    Why? Because the suspected gunman was known to be a white supremacy supporter, as evidenced by his social media site, which was embellished with Confederate symbols.

    Opponents of Hutchinson’s push for the separation of the holidays have argued that, aside from the risk of disregarding southern “heritage,” there is no financial basis of why the separation should be passed. According to an article in The Times Picayune, opponents would often argue in committee hearing rooms last year that, “there was no proof Arkansas had lost any economic projects because it commemorates Lee and King on the same day.” However, in the same article, supporters of the law have argued that, “the combined holiday hurts the state’s image and its efforts to attract business.”

    It is reasonable to believe that implying that the dual celebration of the two men is supported in Arkansas would lead to a hesitancy to participate in economic activities of Arkansas, much less to a hesitancy to associate with a state with that mindset at all.

    Republican Rep. Josh Miller, an opponent of the law in question, told The Times Picayune, “I thought in that particular case we were creating an issue where there wasn’t one.”

    The fact that Confederate symbols, flags and reverence in present-day America are not regarded as “issues” anymore by some is—at the very least—unsettling. Miller’s statement demonstrates the complacency that the tolerance of Confederate support is approached with by some nowadays. The continuation of attitudes like this will only breed unwanted consequences in our country’s future.

    Of all the passionate and virtuous leaders of the civil rights era, Lee has no place sharing a day of remembrance with King. Juxtaposing the celebrations of the two men every third Monday of January implies an equal weight to both men’s constructive contributions to what the nation is today.

    King’s heroism during the civil rights era reigns supreme compared to Lee’s contributions to the time. If desired, states should still retain the right to acknowledge Lee’s military leadership, but it should be held on a different day.

    The two men’s lives can be recognized separately, but the contributions of the two should not be considered equal in nobility. After all, the concept of “separate but equal” has proven to be unsound in America before.

    Follow Jessica Suriano on Twitter.

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