Martin Luther King & Robert E. Lee: Opposites united in a common long weekend

It is an irony that — when considered — boggles the mind. State and local employees get a four-day weekend starting Friday because the Virginia General Assembly in 2000 decided to combine holidays from two opposites of a philosophical divide.

Friday is Lee-Jackson Day, a state holiday celebrated in Virginia in memory of Confederate soldiers Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. Monday is Martin Luther King Day, a federal holiday celebrated in memory of the slain civil rights leader.

Federal employees — and those working in some businesses — get a three day weekend in memory of a civil rights leader who fought to end oppression of African-Americans. Virginia State and Floyd County employees get a four day weekend that begins honoring those who fought in a war to continue — among other things — slavery and the oppression of African-Americans and ends with a holiday for a man who lost his life trying to end oppression that remained prevalent in our society a century later.

Virginia began celebrating Lee’s birthday (Jan. 19) as a state holiday in 1889. The Commonwealth later added the Jan. 21 birthday of Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson to the holiday and it became “Lee-Jackson Day.” In 1983, Congress added King’s birthday of Jan. 15 to the list of federal holidays but it remains today as one of the least-recognized national holidays with several states and only 33 percent of employers surveyed in 2007 giving employees the day off. A survey in Virginia found that fewer than 10 percent of the state’s private employers recognize Lee-Jackson Day and just 21 percent give employees a day off for Martin Luther King Day. Virginia tried to get around the issue by recognizing King’s birthday in combination with New Year’s Day but, after a long debate, recognized the official federal holiday.

You gotta wonder is those who do get the four-day weekend appreciate the irony.