FACT CHECK: Does Alabama Celebrate Robert E. Lee And Martin Luther King Jr. On The Same Day?
Equal Justice Institute founder Bryan Stevenson claimed Monday that “In my state [of Alabama]…we don’t even have Martin Luther King Day; we have Martin Luther King – Robert E. Lee Day” on CNN.
The statement was made during a discussion about the ongoing controversy surrounding statues and other monuments commemorating the Confederacy across the U.S. Most recently, protestors in North Carolina toppled a 1924 statue of a Confederate soldier Monday in response to deadly violence during a Saturday rally in Charlottesville.
A review of state law confirms that Alabama devotes a single holiday to jointly celebrate the birthdays of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Mississippi observes this practice as well, and so did Arkansas until earlier this year.
Section 1-3-8 of the Code of Alabama “enumerate[s] legal public holidays” that the state recognizes. Robert E. Lee and Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthdays are both celebrated on the same day each year, “the third Monday in January.” Robert E. Lee’s birthday is on January 19, just four days after Martin Luther King Jr.’s January 15 birthday.
Similarly, Section 3-3-7 of Mississippi Code declares “the third Monday of January” as a state holiday commemorating “Robert E. Lee’s birthday and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday.”
Arkansas also coupled commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert E. Lee’s birthdays into one public holiday until March this year.
A 1985 report titled “Final Summary of Actions On Selected Subjects By The Seventy-Fifth General Assembly of Arkansas” features a “HOLIDAYS” section with a single action point. The seventy-fifth session of the Arkansas Assembly passed Act 985 or House Bill (H.B.) 132, which, the report summarized, “place[d] official holiday for Robert E. Lee’s and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthdays on the third Monday in January.” The bill was signed into law by then Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton.
The 1985 law was overturned just five months ago in March 2017. Act 561 amended Arkansas Code to devote “the third Monday in January” solely to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. The act did not remove Robert E. Lee’s birthday as a legal public holiday but instead shifted it to the “Second Saturday in October.”
Regardless of this development, Stevenson’s claim that Alabama celebrates a joint Martin Luther King Jr. – Robert E. Lee Day is true.
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