Confederate holiday observed in 3 states next week

Published 1:42 am Sunday, April 26, 2009

State government offices in Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia will be closed Monday for Confederate Memorial Day, but critics say it’s time to rethink the practice of recognizing a society that used and defended slavery.

“It’s clearly contrary to biblical and Christian principles of loving thy neighbor,” Mississippi NAACP president Derrick Johnson said Friday. “That the state would continue to allow this holiday to be celebrated is an affront to close to 40 percent of the population that is African-American.”

Confederate holidays have been observed for decades across the South, either on the fourth Monday in April or on other days.

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The day in Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia commemorates the surrender of Confederate Gen. Joseph Johnston and his army to Union Gen. William Sherman on April 26, 1865. That came two weeks after Gen. Robert E. Lee had surrendered.

For many public employees, Confederate Memorial Day is simply a chance to enjoy an extended weekend by sleeping late or running errands.

Sons of Confederate Veterans groups are planning services at courthouses or in cemeteries in each of the three states this weekend or on Monday. Among the events is a gathering at 10:30 a.m. Monday on grounds of the Alabama statehouse.

Robert Reames, Alabama commander of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, said Friday it’s proper to recognize the sacrifices of people he believes “legally seceded from the United States” to defend their homes, families and economic system.

“It’s very easy … to vilify our Confederate ancestors and write them off,” Reames said. “They were the greatest heroes this country has ever produced.”

Most historians say the fight over slavery was a primary cause of the Civil War. Reames disagrees, saying that is simply “what’s being taught through the schools through Yankee books from Yankee publishers telling the Yankee side of the war.”

Mississippi’s declaration of secession, adopted in January 1861, said in part: “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery — the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun.”

Johnson said Confederate Memorial Day should be abolished.

“It is a remnant of Mississippi’s segregated past,” Johnson said. “Could you imagine Israel celebrating Hitler day or Nazi day?”

In South Carolina this year, a black state senator filed a bill that would require cities and counties to give workers a paid day off for Confederate Memorial Day or lose millions of dollars from the state. The bill stalled in a subcommittee, but it could be considered until June 2010.

Sen. Robert Ford said he pushed a bill years ago to make both the May 10 Confederate day and Martin Luther King Jr. Day paid holidays. He said it was an effort to help people understand the South Carolina’s history.