Lee-Jackson Day: Who Is It Good For?

lee-stonewall-jackson-graveI’ve enjoyed reading the comments attached to my last post, which featured Governor Terry McAullife’s first Lee-Jackson Day Proclamation. As readers have noted it contains a couple questionable references, but what I find interesting is just how hollow it sounds. What could you possibly learn about these two men from reading this proclamation if you had no prior knowledge? I would say, next to nothing and yet this is a state holiday.

As it stands the proclamation avoids anything that smacks of controversy. It’s an innocent reminder of a time long past when there was something at stake for a large number of white Virginians in acknowledging the two Confederate warriors and, more importantly, the Lost Cause for which they fought. For most Virginians today who are impacted by the holiday it is little more than a day off from work. With each generation our distance from the war itself grows and the emotional cords fewer. We are likely seeing the last hurrah from a generation that grew up or came of age during the Civil War centennial.

Looking ahead fifty years, I would be very surprised if Virginia and other Southern states continue to acknowledge Lee-Jackson Day.

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16 comments… add one

  • Christine Smith Jan 22, 2014

    This whole conversations reminds me that when we were first married we lived in Richmond, Kentucky. My husband went to the bank on January 19th, and found it was closed for Lee/Jackson Day. He was astonished. He was also astonished that Kentuckians stand up when the state song, “My Old Kentucky Home” is played. “We don’t do that for “On the Banks of the Wabash” “, he said. I replied that had nothing to do with anything, and asked him to please stand up, since he was the only person sitting down in the whole auditorium. I think Kevin is right….in 50 years, most of the folks who perpetrate these kinds of holidays, etc., will be gone and it will be much different.

    • Jerry Sudduth Jan 22, 2014

      As a native Kentuckian whose Kentucky ancestors fought for the Union, the love and attention Kentucky pays to the Confederacy vexes me. This state never formally seceded and had three US soldiers for every one rebel. Don’t try to tell people that around here now, they’ve bought fully into the Confederate narrative. I hear about John Hunt Morgan ad nauseum, but little on Major General John Buford. Both are native sons of Kentucky but the rebel gets the attention even though Buford’s contributions were arguably much greater.

      But things are beginning to change. The good news is Richmond, KY doesn’t celebrate Lee-Jackson Day any more. At least they didn’t in my days as an undergrad at Eastern Ky University (good place to use my GI Bill, btw). In time these kind of holidays won’t have any social cachet and will go the way of the preverbal dodo.

      As an aside, I know people don’t stand up for “On the Banks of the Wabash,” but every Indianapolis 500 the crowd stands en masse for the playing of “Back Home Again in Indiana.” That is one of the most powerful moments in sports and personally more meaningful to me than the singing of “My Old Kentucky Home.”

      • Kevin Levin Jan 22, 2014

        Jerry,

        Thanks for the comment. Are you familiar with Anne Marshall’s book, Creating a Confederate Kentucky? If not, you will want to check it out.

        • Jerry Sudduth Jan 23, 2014

          I have that on my shelf at home, it is an excellent study of Civil War memory in a Border State that I would say is crucial reading for anyone wanting an understanding of how the war was remembered.

          She articulates a lot of the what I’d noticed about Kentucky’s remembrance of the war that could only be considered anecdotal. After reading it I felt a sense of loss at how those who fought for Union and why they fought were essentially cast aside as this state fostered essentially a false narrative for itself that is a weird variant of the Lost Cause Tradition.
          The desire to change its past showed itself as only mostly those with rebel bonafides held high office in the state after the war. That seems to have made Kentucky more reactionary and loathe to embrace progress. As a result this state to fall far behind the neighboring states, which is felt acutely to this day.

          I hope this wasn’t too much of an aside from the main topic, Mr. Levin!

  • Ryan Thomasson Jan 22, 2014

    I’m curious on why Columbus Day doesn’t have a similar backlash… Maybe the Commonwealth should recognize an Ambrose Burnside day in Fredericksburg for looting the city, or have a tribute to Philip Sheridan for destroying the Shenandoah Valley. Let’s not be hypocritical, but the way demographics keep changing because of the North… Ambrose Burnside Day could be a strong possibility…

    • Will Stoutamire Jan 22, 2014

      Columbus Day receives tons of backlash each year.

      • Ryan Thomasson Jan 22, 2014

        From who? A vast minority. Are Federal employes really going to complain about getting a paid day off from work? The answer is: No. It’s a hyporcrital holiday.

        • Patrick Young Jan 22, 2014

          You don’t live in a Latino community Ryan. It is extremely controversial as Columbus Day and has been renamed in many Latino communities.

  • Patrick Young Jan 22, 2014

    Just to amplify for those who are not Latino or who don’t live in Latino communities.

    Many Latinos are of primarily indigenous origins. My community is made up of mainly Pipil peoples and peoples from the group called Mayan by white people. Most Latinos are of mixed race ancestry, descendents of African slaves, Europeans, and indigenous peoples.Other ethnic groups have also merged into this blending.

    Columbus Day for many of them is tinged with historic memories of displacement, conquest, massacre and enslavement. It also carries the lie that Columbus discovered anything.

    Yet, the arrival of Columbus was the beginning of the combination of cultures from Europe, Africa, and the Americas that created the modern mixed culture and mixed race that many modern Latinos call “La Raza”. Hence, Columbus Day has been renamed “Dia de la Raza ” for many Latinos.

    This should not be taken to imply that all Latinos do this. Many still try to prove a connection to the Spanish conquerors, but that is less true every year. They are sort of the SCV or FFV of Latin America.

  • Connie Chastain Jan 22, 2014

    Since when are proclamations like this supposed to be teaching instruments? Do you put that requirement on all proclamations?

    • Kevin Levin Jan 22, 2014

      I am simply noting that the proclamation fails to say anything substantive about the identity of these two men. Who said anything about them having to function as “teaching instruments”? I am sorry to see you chose to exhaust your weekly quota of comments on this blog on such a minor and obvious point.

  • Brendan Bossard Jan 22, 2014

    I have conflicting feelings about this matter. On one hand, I feel good that the Lost Cause is losing its grip, as symbolized by the fading of the Lee-Jackson remembrance. On the other hand, I feel saddened, because if we do not remember the nation-changing events and beliefs that these people represent, we may repeat their mistakes at some point in the future. I do not know how to resolve this dilemma.

    • Kevin Levin Jan 22, 2014

      On the other hand, I feel saddened, because if we do not remember the nation-changing events and beliefs that these people represent…

      There is no dilemma since there are plenty of ways to remember, commemorate, and understand this crucial moment in American history.

  • Brad Jan 22, 2014

    I have no great love for either of these men but to me it’s tragic that historical events — just not these events — are fading from memory.

    As far as Columbus Day goes, I grew up in Latin America and Spain and it is an important holiday. He did discover America; I know all the contra arguments so no need to go there. It is a checkered history but Spain — la Madre Patria — did bring the language and the religion and maybe there are those who are not pro Spanish culture but Spanish culture did leave its mark. At any rate, when I lived in Spain, they called it El Dia de la Raza so that is not really anything new.

    • Kevin Levin Jan 23, 2014

      I have no great love for either of these men but to me it’s tragic that historical events — just not these events — are fading from memory.

      These kinds of comments seem to assume that previous generations were somehow more closely tied to the past and I am not sure this is the case.

      • Brad Jan 23, 2014

        You may be right Kevin but the general impression that I have is that prior generations were, as a whole, more aware of the history of this country than now.

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