There are a number of observations that one can make about our nation’s Civil War memory as it has taken shape during the sesquicentennial and where it might be headed. The most obvious is that the public display of the Confederate flag is in full retreat in the South. There are numerous examples that I could sight to support this claim.
Increasingly, in the past few years, Lee-Jackson Day has fallen under increased suspicion in the South. Let’s face it, the holiday currently exists in many Southern states in name only. Public offices might be closed, but very few people formally acknowledge the day in any significant way. Even in Lexington, Virginia, where both Lee and Jackson are buried, it takes people from outside the community ‘to remind residents that it’s that time of year again. And in places where Lee-Jackson Day falls on Martin Luther King Day the latter almost always attracts more attention.
Last week the state of Arkansas debated and ultimately decided not to discontinue honoring Lee on MLK Day. [The law would also have brought to an end the public recognition of June 3 as the birthday of Jefferson Davis.] Charlottesville’s city council will soon decide whether to continue recognizing Lee-Jackson Day. You can find plenty of stories out of other parts of the South where the holiday has caused public protest.
Of course, this represents a very small number of communities, but you should fully expect these calls to increase in the next few years, along with decisions that reflect the South’s changing demographic and distance from the men, who were once believed to represent all Southerners.