On February 14, both houses of the Virginia General Assembly approved their respective versions of Governor Gilmore's bill and passed them on to their counterparts.


By R.H. Melton
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 20, 2000

RICHMOND, Jan. 19--Gov. James S. Gilmore III (R) announced today that he wants Virginia's holiday honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to stay where it is--on the third Monday in January--and a new legal holiday for Confederate heroes Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson to come three days earlier, on Friday.

Governor GilmoreGilmore issued details of legislation, now being drafted by the General Assembly, that would put into law his idea for splitting up the combined holiday that has honored the two Civil War generals and the slain civil rights leader since 1985.

Gilmore surprised lawmakers last week by saying that King deserved a special day of his own. Lee-Jackson-King Day coincides with the federal King holiday.

"The separate contributions and separate heroic deeds of these men warrant individual holidays," Gilmore said today. "It is long overdue for these men to be honored with separate holidays marking their distinct lives."

A bipartisan and and biracial group of lawmakers will sponsor Gilmore's holiday bill, the governor said. In the House of Delegates, William P. Robinson Jr. (D-Norfolk), son of a famed civil rights champion, will cosponsor the measure along with R. Lee Ware Jr. (R-Powhatan), a teacher and student of Civil War history, and Terri Lynne Suit (R-Virginia Beach), a freshman elected in the GOP-majority wave last fall.

L. Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth) will be a cosponsor in the Senate, along with Emmett W. Hanger Jr. (R-Augusta) and Stephen D. Newman (R-Lynchburg).

Gilmore also announced that his budget staff had calculated the government's cost for a new state holiday at $900,000, most of that at agencies that must operate around-the-clock.

Lee's Jan. 19 birth date was a state holiday for decades and long included Jackson, born on Jan. 21. King was born on Jan. 15.

L. Douglas Wilder, a former state senator, lieutenant governor and the nation's first elected black governor, tried for years to win recognition for King, succeeding in 1984.

The first Lee-Jackson-King Day was celebrated the following year, on the third Monday in January. In 1986, that day became the federal King holiday. Wilder, a Gilmore friend, was instrumental in the governor's call for separate holidays.

Some fans of Lee and Jackson grumbled today about Gilmore moving their heroes around the calendar, but passage in the General Assembly seems all but assured, given the governor's support, the bipartisan sponsors and the undisputed Republican majority in the legislature.

Robert W. Barbour, of Roanoke, head of the Sons of Confederate Veterans in Virginia, said moving up the holiday for Lee and Jackson put more distance between the commemoration and their actual birth dates.

"I'd just as soon they keep the holiday the way it was," Barbour said at a Capitol news conference he held to discuss the torching of a Lee banner in Richmond on Monday, this year's Lee-Jackson-King Day.

"After all, it's a Virginia holiday," Barbour said. "Who are the Virginians here?"

Ware, whose passion for history led him to name the youngest of his four children Jeb Stuart after the Confederate cavalry general, said he asked Gilmore's office to make him a bill sponsor after he heard the governor's State of the Commonwealth address.

Ware called the separate holidays a reasonable compromise and vital reminder of Virginia's past. "It's important not to forget," Ware said. "Amnesia is one of the greatest enemies of all of us."

On February 7, the House General Laws Committee of the Virginia State Assembly sent House Bill 1124 to the floor of the House for consideration. This bill would authorize the establishment of an official State holiday honoring Confederate Generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson, separate and apart from the current holiday that celebrates their lives in conjunction with that of slain civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King. The bill will be read three times and a vote taken. If the bill is passed, it will go to the Senate, and the process will begin again. If the bill passes the Senate with no changes, it will be forwarded to Governor James Gilmore for his signature. A Senate bill (Senate Bill 672) currently in the Senate General Laws Committee calls for the same revision to the current holiday. The time involved in the passage and signing into law of these bills can be as little as two weeks.

Virginia Division UDC urges you to contact your delegate and your senator and request that these bills not be passed. The current Lee-Jackson-King holiday allows Virginians a unique opportunity to honor the memories of three Christian gentlemen whose lives stand today as testaments to the deep faith that they shared and to their unceasing efforts to live according to the principles of that faith. We believe that Generals Lee and Jackson would be both pleased and proud to be honored along with Dr. King and would not approve of any move -- however well intentioned -- that would further widen the existing divide between blacks and whites in the Old Dominion. The money spent to close down state offices for yet another day could be put to better use in addressing such issues as education, health care, and transportation -- areas that affect all citizens of the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Contact your representatives today or phone the Constituent Viewpoint hotline at 1-800-889-0229 to express your opinion on this legislative issue before it's too late. Say "no" to both bills HB1124 and SB672.

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