Martin Luther King Jr. was a famous African-American leader of the civil rights movement. Robert E. Lee was the commander of the Army of Northern Virginia, the main Confederate military force during the Civil War. The Confederate states had seceded from the Union largely because of their desire to preserve the institution of slavery. So it might seem incongruous (and perhaps inconsiderate) to celebrate the birthdays of both of these men on the same day, but that’s exactly what happens every year in Alabama and Mississippi on the third Monday in January. One explanation for why Lee and King are celebrated on the same day is bureaucratic convenience. After President Ronald Reagan made the third Monday in January the official national MLK holiday in 1983, lawmakers in certain southern states didn’t want to have two holidays in January, so they decided to combine the statewide recognition of General Lee with the federal holiday honoring Dr. King.
Recognizing two very different legacies:
- Arkansas also celebrated both men on the same day until 2017, when lawmakers eliminated the awkward pairing with Senate Bill 519.
- Robert E. Lee was born on January 19, 1807. Martin Luther King Jr. was born on January 15, 1929.
- Virginia celebrated Lee-Jackson-King Day (also incorporating the birthday of Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson) on the third Monday in January until 2000.