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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