The weekend before Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is typically filled with community service events and gatherings to honor Dr. King’s lifetime career of social justice work. In Virginia, that weekend also featured a holiday that commemorated the lives of two Confederate generals — until now. 

Friday marked the first time in over 100 years that the Commonwealth of Virginia did not officially celebrate the former state holiday, Lee-Jackson Day. The holiday traditionally consisted of multiple days of parades and community events to honor Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson for being “defenders of causes.” 

Lee, according to the Virginia Museum of History and Culture, was a commander of the Army of Northern Virginia and general in the Confederate Army. A slave owner, Lee is commonly revered for fighting against the north on behalf of his home state of Virginia. 

After the Confederacy lost the Civil War, he settled outside Richmond, Virginia, and eventually became the president of Washington College, now called Washington and Lee University. 

Jackson was a Confederate general, who, according to the Virginia Military Institute, was also a slave owner. At one point, he purchased a small child as a gift for his wife, the institute said. 

In 1984, lawmakers renamed the holiday Lee-Jackson-King Day to be inclusive of the civil rights icon, according to NPR. The general assembly reversed that decision in 2000.

Virginia lawmakers voted to remove the day, founded in 1899, from its official holiday list in February 2020. Election Day became an official holiday in its place. 

The Commonwealth has spent the past year scaling back its Confederate monuments, in response to calls from racial justice activists.

In December, a statue of Lee that has represented Virginia for 111 years was removed from the National Statuary Hall Collection in the U.S. Capitol. A few months before, protestors tore down a statue of Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy, in Richmond, Virginia. 

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam tweeted on Friday that “we no longer celebrate a false version of history that honors the confederacy.” 

In Virginia, we no longer celebrate a false version of history that honors the confederacy. https://t.co/fYfUPNRSsE

While many praised the decision, the holiday swap was met with criticism from others. Many have commented on Northam’s post saying that Confederate soldiers need to be honored. 

“I’m seriously offended by this,” one person responded. “…I will honor those confederate soldiers despite the new ideology that this is the present. It’s not a good time for Americans anymore. Confederate soldiers helped us win wars and they are being disrespected.” 

Despite the Commonwealth’s decision to no longer consider Lee-Jackson day a holiday, many people throughout Virginia are celebrating throughout the weekend. In Lexington, organizers called “The Stonewall Brigade – Sons of Confederate Veterans” have planned a “religious revival service” at Jackson’s gravesite, as well as a parade, on Saturday. 

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