Why Georgia won’t celebrate Confederate Memorial Day today

Joseph Andrews waves a confederate battle flag towards a mass of counter-protesters in April 2016. Ben Gray, bgray@ajc.com

The fourth Monday in April had 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 in 2015 struck Confederate Memorial Day and Robert E. Lee’s birthday from the state’s official holiday calendar, replacing them with the 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. A plan to honor Martin Luther King Jr. with a statue on the statehouse grounds is in the works. And state officials proposed to build a memorial for black soldiers near the giant paean to the Confederate war dead.

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 after the 2015 name change 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 in April 2016.

 


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