Austin. A day before the 216th anniversary of Robert E. Lee’s birth, Rep. Jarvis Johnson said it was finally time for Texas to end the public holiday, introduced 50 years ago to honor the soldiers who fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War.
“This is no longer the look we want for our state,” Johnson, a Democrat from Houston and a member of the black caucus in the House of Representatives, said in an interview Wednesday. “We will never move forward, move the needle and change the trajectory of our relationship while we still have this holiday.”
Johnson drew attention to legislation he unsuccessfully filed in Wednesday’s pre-legislative sessions because most government agencies are only required to maintain skeletal brigades on Thursday, which is a Confederate holiday.
In 1973, the Legislature officially declared January 19, Lee’s birthday, a Confederate holiday. Prior to this, the state celebrated the birthday of both Lee and Confederate President Jefferson Davis, who was born on June 3, 1808. None of them were from Texas.
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Tributes to the Confederacy in the form of monuments in public places and in the names of schools and other public buildings have been a source of controversy in the last few meetings of the Legislative Assembly.
Two years ago, bills by Johnson and others to end Confederate holidays were defeated without ever getting a committee hearing. A separate measure, which would have required the removal of statues and other works of art in honor of the Confederacy, was indeed considered by the committee, but a vote was never taken.
The Confederate holiday usually falls on the same week as the federal holiday honoring the assassinated civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., which falls on the third Monday in January and has been celebrated in Texas since 1984.
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This irony was not lost on Johnson, who noted that King was fighting for racial justice while the Civil War was being fought over slavery.
“While (King’s Day) is a reminder that we are all created equal, how do we simultaneously celebrate an ideology that has been associated with oppression and superiority?” he asked.
The fate of this year’s bill remains uncertain. The 2013 legislative session is less than two weeks away and no committees have yet been appointed.