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MLK Day should not include Lee recognition

John David Thompson

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Martin Luther King Jr. was a martyr for human rights for all Americans, not just African Americans. His insistence on non-violent protests had profound effects on the American Civil Rights movement, and his legacy lives on as an inspiration for proponents of equality all over the world. Yet, in the state of Alabama and other Southern states, his holiday is shared with Confederate general Robert E. Lee. While there are many wrongs in our state’s history that we can never make right, it is not too late to give King the recognition he deserves.

Withholding any personal feelings about Robert E. Lee, one must first face the facts: He chose to align himself with the state of Virginia, and thus, the Confederate States of America. Furthermore, Lee led troops in a war that took the lives of at least 618,000 Americans. Lee had the chance to change the course of American history. On April 18, 1861, the Union Army offered him the position of commanding general. Instead, he chose to betray the United States, even though he once said, “I can anticipate no greater calamity for the country than a dissolution of the Union.” However, Lee led the army of the nation that caused that calamity. Had Lee accepted the position to command the U.S. Army, he could have forever changed American history for the better rather than contribute to the disastrous effects the Civil War had on the American South.

For some reason in the South, especially in Alabama, there is a distaste and distrust of the federal government. This is mere foolishness. The United States Constitution opens with “We the people” which means all Americans, including Alabamians. Furthermore, Alabama receives more federal aid than most other states: a return of $3.27 in aid for every $1 paid in federal taxes. The idea of the federal government not having power over the states is ridiculous in Alabama.

In the middle of the 20th century, there was a man who understood the importance of the power of the federal government over the states, and was able to bring all Americans together to peacefully fight for equality: Martin Luther King Jr. He dedicated his life to the American Civil Rights movement. Under King’s leadership, the United States saw the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Civil Rights Act of 1968, which was passed just after his assassination. King was also instrumental in the Montgomery Bus Boycott, first president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and won the Congressional Gold Medal, the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Nobel Peace Prize.

King dedicated his life to fighting for equality and ultimately he died for it. Celebrating his legacy with Robert E. Lee is egregiously offensive. Coretta Scott King, wife of King and an Alabama native, led the movement for the passage of the holiday. She also found herself at the head of the African American Civil Rights Movement. Eventually, she included LGBT rights, women’s rights and many others. Alabama taking such an obvious opposition to her is simply embarrassing.

There are many dark stains that plague Alabama’s history. However, as we take this Black History Month to celebrate the legacy of King, the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act and Bloody Sunday, we must ask ourselves how we should proceed in the fight for liberty, justice and equality for all. Let’s give King the recognition he deserves and change the “King/Lee” holiday to Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

John David Thompson is a sophomore majoring in political science and French. His column runs weekly.

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MLK Day should not include Lee recognition