TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — As celebrations poured in for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on Monday, some Floridians were preparing for another birthday later this week.
Wednesday, Jan. 19, is Robert E. Lee’s birthday, the general who commanded the Confederate Army. Lee’s birthday is one of three legal holidays in Florida celebrating the Confederacy, along with Jefferson Davis’ birthday and Confederate Memorial Day.
Minority Leader and State Sen. Lauren Book, D-Broward County, has filed a bill for the third time in five years to remove the holidays from state law.
“With all of the hate and divisiveness we see today, it’s more important than ever to condemn racism,” Book said in February of 2021 about her bill.
Book’s previous bills failed in committee, and opposition has been vocal.
Republican State Sen. Dennis Baxley, of Ocala, said his great, great, great grandfather fought for the Confederacy.
“I always have a bit of pain in my heart when I realize people don’t want to respect each other’s history,” Baxley said. “The good, the bad, and the ugly.”
Supporters of the bill point out that history is ugly and racist.
Robert E. Lee once called slavery “a moral and political evil,” but he also owned slaves and said, “Negroes have neither the intelligence nor the qualifications which are necessary to make them safe depositories of political power.”
Jefferson Davis was also a slaveowner and claimed it was “a form of civil government for those who, by their nature, are not fit to govern themselves.”
The Confederate Constitution made a point of protecting the right to own slaves, explicitly allowing it in several places, including Article IV, Section 2(1), which states, “The citizens of each State shall be entitled to all the privileges and immunities of citizens in the several States; and shall have the right of transit and sojourn in any State of this Confederacy, with their slaves and other property; and the right of property in said slaves shall not be thereby impaired.”
State Rep. Fentrice Driskell, D-Hillsborough, said it’s particularly egregious that Florida has days that recognize the Confederacy when Juneteenth, a day commemorating the end of slavery in America, is not a state holiday.
“So to alleviate three Confederate holidays above Juneteenth feels like a denigration of the contribution of Black Americans,” Driskell said in 2020.
In addition to Book’s bill, several lawmakers have introduced bills to make Juneteenth a state holiday.
In June, President Joe Biden signed into law a bill to make Juneteenth, or June 19, the 12th federal holiday.