Lee Day controversial and unknown

By: Rob Pratt
By: Rob Pratt

Knoxville (WVLT) -- As people across the country prepare to observe Martin Luther King Jr's birthday on Monday, another historical figure also has a day in designated in his honor.

It isn’t wildly known, but every year, Robert E. Lee Day is celebrated as an official holiday in Tennessee.

The little known holiday is fine with some Tennesseans, but others don't think the government should still officially honor the Confederate Army General.

January 19th, which falls on a Saturday this year, is legally recognized as Robert E. Lee Day in the state.

“I think he was one of the best generals we've ever had,” said Linden Gill, a Knoxville resident. “I was a career military person and respect reading about him in history as well as about how well he was liked. He could have been in the Union Army or the Confederate Army, either one."

"He was the leader of the Confederate Army and the Confederacy sought to accumulate states to use African Americans as property," said Ezra Maize, president of the Knoxville chapter of the NAACP.

Maize said he doubts most even know about the Robert E. Lee holiday, but he is troubled just knowing that it's still on the books.

So how did it become a holiday?

A spokesperson from Governor Phil Bredesen's office said state law makes it the duty of the governor to proclaim the day.

That spokesperson said Lee Day is not intended to offend anyone and that the Governor is just following the letter of the law.

"On the one hand, we recognize and we celebrate Martin Luther King's Birthday, because we are proud of the struggle that we have gone through in order to receive the freedom that we have received,” Maize said. “On the other hand, we keep on the books Robert E. Lee day which totally contradicts what Martin Luther King stood for."

In the end, it would take an act of the legislature to change the holiday, but with so few even noticing the day, and even fewer complaining, that appears unlikely to happen.

There are several other state holidays you may not even know about

The include Harriet Tubman day on March 10th and Confederate Memorial Day on June 3rd.


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  • by Tony Location: MI. on Sep 13, 2008 at 09:30 PM
    WE celebrate Rev.Dr.Martin Luther King's life and legacy because of the SACRIFICE that he gave for the ADVANCEMENT of African-Americans. To all you racist folks....OBAMA 08!!!!THANKS Dr.King you helped make it possible!!!!!!!!!!!
  • by Doug Location: Virginia on Apr 11, 2008 at 06:17 PM
    From looking through all these comments, it's clear that much more history needs to be taught. Let's begin here: Gen. Grant was Lincoln's second choice to head the Union army. Grant's first choice was Gen. Robert E. Lee, and Lee raised Lincoln's ire by not only turning him down, but for resigning from the Union army in order to follow his state of Virginia as it seceded. Lesson #2 is that the war was about MONEY . . . the big bucks of the cloth-manufacturers in the industrialized northeast, where they chose to enslave children and women in their factories, than use the black slaves that were already there. Lesson #3: One of the biggest slave auctions in the USA was right across the street from the Union capitol, in Washington, DC. Many of the New England family fortunes were made from the slave trade in RI, CT, MA and NY. Gen. Robert E. Lee was a man of huge Christian faith, honor and commitment, unlike the NAACP which requires much conflict to gain any support.
  • by LoneRebel Location: Chicago Illinois on Jan 28, 2008 at 04:30 PM
    The NAACP is just plain hatefull and racist. Lee fought a war that stood not for slavery, but for freedom. To say that Lee fought so he could keep blacks as slaves is just plain stupid and ignorant. I fly my flag and I fly it high and with pride. If some people think its "racist" or dont like it, then I pity them, and say they shouldn't look at it.
  • by Smitty Location: Nashville on Jan 24, 2008 at 12:19 PM
    Lee's birthday recognition is only "controversial" because race agitators choose to make it so for their own purposes and cowardly politicians like our governor fail to stand-up. We could use some courageous and honorable leaders like Lee in Tennessee today.
  • by Red Location: Johnson City on Jan 24, 2008 at 11:01 AM
    Where is the equality? Lee-Jackson Day can is all but forgotton but MLK Day is hyped from every venue. The Scotch/Irish and German peoples that settled most of the Mid-South get little attention in the schools or history books in recent years but an entire month is devoted to promoting and glorifying Black history. Famous Tennessee like Old Hickory and Confederate heros from Tennessee like Forest are forgotton or denigrated while MLK and others are diafied. Shouldn't equality be for all? Even us old Tennessee mountain white folk?
  • by Sarge Location: Franklin Tenn on Jan 23, 2008 at 02:21 PM
    Lee and Jackson along with Jefferson Davis,Forest and other great Heros of the South should be remembered with respect. Rarely in human history has an army or a people stood so bravely and honorably against such tremendous odds. MLK was certainly not a hero of my family but we do not choose to denigrate his memory. I only wish folk like Mr. Maise and other racial agitators would return the same level of respect.
  • by Virginian Location: Galax Virginia on Jan 22, 2008 at 09:14 AM
    On his invasion of the North into Pennsylvania,General Lee selected Gettysburg as a point of attack for a very special reason. In Gettysburg was located a shoe making company. Approximately 50% of Lee's hungry,ill-equipped troops were barefoot or shod only in makeshift foot wrappings.In spite of great deprivation and hardship the southern army displayed courage and fighting spirit against astounding odds. It has been said that one could trace their line of march by the bloody footprints. An army of such men would follow only a most honored and beloved commander. Lee represents the best of our American heritage. He and those that he lead deserve respect regardless of current political circimstances or racial posturing and agitation.
  • by Old Timer-Lee Admirer Location: Tenn on Jan 22, 2008 at 08:35 AM
    The mean-spirited attitude of those that continually denigrate the memory of our Southern icons and our heritage is the unfortunate result of ignorance and predjudice. Both Mr. Maise and our Governor's spokesman would benifit from a bit of the courage,the grace and the Christian spirit demonstrated by both LEE and King. It should not be necessary to tear down the valued heritage of people in order to honor the values and heritage of others. We are all Americans. Let's show some respect, where so much respect has been earned. To both Lee and to King.
  • by Danny Location: O Sullivan on Jan 21, 2008 at 09:24 AM
    Applying the standards of the present to historical times ... the true level of both arrogance and ignorance. Congrats.
  • by susan Location: Madisonville tn on Jan 21, 2008 at 08:59 AM
    Maize we Robert E Lee supporters we celebrate because we are proud of the struggle that we have gone through. Our Governor Phil Bredesen should be a man and stand up for something. No he has his spokesperson say it is his duty. We have men and women of all age and color fighting and dying for us today, and the naacp wants to whine about Robert E Lee and his day. Please forgive me if I don't care. My kids have to stay home from school on Kings birthday they have to study this in school. Will the naacp ever be happy will it ever be enough. Robert E Lee was a great man and I am proud to be a supporter of his. Mr. Lee is history just as Mr. King was. Mr. Maize needs a history lesson.
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