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Greg Bluestein

Why today is no longer Confederate Memorial Day in Georgia

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Joseph Andrews, from left, of Woodstock, Shaun WInkler of Mississippi and James Berry of Michigan walk through the designated Rock Stone Mountain protest area as hundreds of counter-protesters can be seen 100 yards behind them at Stone Mountain Park on Saturday afternoon April 23, 2016. Ben Gray / bgray@ajc.com

Joseph Andrews, from left, of Woodstock, Shaun WInkler of Mississippi and James Berry of Michigan walk as hundreds of counter-protesters can be seen 100 yards behind them at Stone Mountain Park. Ben Gray, bgray@ajc.com

The fourth Monday in April has for decades been known in Georgia as Confederate Memorial Day. But this year, the day goes by the much more neutral title: “State Holiday.”

Most state employees will still take Monday off, but they will no longer officially be memorializing the South’s casualties. That’s because Gov. Nathan Deal last year struck Confederate Memorial Day and Robert E. Lee’s birthday from the state’s official holiday calendar, replacing them withthe less controversial nomenclature.

Deal’s decision to quietly change the names came amid increased scrutiny of Georgia’s embrace of Confederate symbols after the massacre of nine black worshippers at a Charleston church by a suspected white supremacist.

State-issued license plates featuring the Rebel emblem have been altered, though only slightly. Statues and paintings of Confederate leaders in the statehouse are facing fresh criticism. And the leaders of Stone Mountain have agreed to build a memorial for black soldiers near the giant paean to the Confederate war dead.

Most recently, the Southern Baptist Convention has been asked to endorse an end to the public display of the Confederate battle emblem that once decorated Georgia’s state flag.

In a 2015 interview, Deal said the change was meant to “show that we are a state that has come a very long way.”

“We are tolerant of a lot of things. But we will also protect our heritage,” he said, adding: “This was not one of those areas where I thought it was necessary to keep those labels associated with the holiday.”

The debate, of course, rages on.

A flood of emails to the governor’s office brought responses ranging from praise to charges of cowardice. The Sons of Confederate Veterans labeled it “an act of dishonor.”

And demonstrators brandishing Rebel flags held dueling rallies with counter-protesters at Stone Mountain over the weekend.

Here’s a comparison of the state’s last two holiday calendars:

Georgia's 2015 and 2016 holiday calendar

Georgia’s 2015 and 2016 holiday calendar