A proposal is back in the Florida Senate that would end legal holidays marking the birthdays of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and Confederate President Jefferson Davis, along with Confederate Memorial Day.
In 2019, Marion County became the focus of the issue after both the Marion County Commission and Ocala Mayor Kent Guinn approved proclamations recognizing Confederate Memorial Day. The move was condemned locally and made headlines across the country. Some even held a protest that year on April 26, the generally observed date of Confederate Memorial Day.
Sen. Lauren Book, D-Plantation, on Monday, filed a bill (SB 1116) to remove the Lee, Davis and Confederate Memorial days from a list of legal holidays on the books in Florida. The bill is filed for consideration during the 2021 legislative session, which will begin March 2.
Lee’s birthday, Jan. 19, and Confederate Memorial Day, April 26, have been legal holidays in Florida since 1895. Davis’ birthday, June 3, was added in 1905. Florida is one of five states that have kept Confederate Memorial Day a legal holiday. Confederate Memorial Day and the Lee and Davis days are not paid holidays for public employees in Florida. A similar proposal Book sponsored in 2018 was approved by one Senate committee but did not pass the Legislature. It drew objections from people who argued the proposal would erase Southern history. Rep. Mike Grieco, D-Miami Beach, filed a similar bill last month (HB 6007). Other legal holidays that are not paid holidays include Susan B. Anthony’s birthday, Good Friday, Flag Day and Pascua Florida Day, which marks the 1513 arrival in Florida of Juan Ponce de Leon.
The first reported observance of Confederate Memorial Day was on April 26, 1866, a year after the surrender of Confederate Gen. Joseph E. Johnston to Union Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman at Bennett Place in Durham, North Carolina. That was the last major surrender of the war.
In Florida, Confederate Memorial Day was an official holiday well into the 1930s, with state and local government, banks and schools closing in observance. It slowly began to fade after most Confederate veterans passed away and after congress officially declared Confederate soldiers as U.S. veterans in 1958, including them on Memorial Day. The rise of civil rights issues also dampened the holiday. Still, vestiges remain including its legal holiday status in Florida. At Arlington National Cemetery near Washington D.C. where the bodies of both Union and Confederate soldiers lay, Confederate Memorial Day also is an annual observance.
Ocala Gazette Staff contributed to this report.