Lawmakers push to remove Confederate leaders’ birthdays from public holidays; add Juneteenth

Robert E. Lee, a famous Confederate general and commander of the Confederate States Army during the Civil War. U.S. Army Fort Lee in Virginia was named after General Lee. Credit: Wikipedia

Florida’s list of legal holidays includes Confederate leaders’ birthdays and  racist events in history, and Democrats in the state Legislature say it’s time to to get rid of them, once and for all.

In the 2021 legislative session beginning March 2, state lawmakers are not only pushing for legislation to end public holidays such as Confederate figures Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis and Confederate Memorial Day, but attempting to add Juneteenth as a public holiday.

Juneteenth, on June 19, marks a significant time in history, when the remaining enslaved African Americans in the United States were granted freedom in 1865.

State Sen. Lauren Book filed legislation this week that would remove Confederate holidays in the state, repeal “a provision relating to the mutilation of, or disrespect for, Confederate flags” and remove “the designations of the Birthdays of Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis and Confederate Memorial Day as legal holidays.”

“As a state, we must underscore diversity and undercut tributes to Confederacy, which upheld the institution of slavery,” Book, a Democrat representing part of Broward County, said in a written statement.

“With the hate and divisiveness, we’re seeing today, it is more important than ever to condemn racism and reaffirm that we are indeed ‘one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all – not just for some.”

According to Florida statutes, the state observes legal holidays such as celebrating Confederate leaders Robert E. Lee, whose birthday is January 19, and Jefferson Davis, whose birthday is June 3, as well as Confederate Memorial Day on April 26.

Robert E. Lee was the South’s top general during the Civil War and Jefferson Davis was the president of the Confederate states.

As previously reported by the Florida Phoenix, state Rep. Michael Grieco, an attorney and Democrat representing part of Miami-Dade County, had filed similar legislation in December of 2020 that would remove those holidays in Florida.

Grieco’s bill, HB 6007, would remove “the designations of the birthdays of Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis and Confederate Memorial Day as legal holidays,” according to the bill summary.

Protests over George Floyd’s death have escalated across Florida and elsewhere around the country. Credit: YouTube.

Meanwhile, the Black Lives Matter movement was heightened following racial injustices across the nation last year, triggering protests and demonstrations in several states including Florida.

In addition to getting rid of Confederate-related birthdays and public holidays, there have been efforts across the country to eliminate Confederate statues and rename Old South military bases.

To commemorate Black history in the state, Sen. Randolph Bracy has introduced a bill entitled “Juneteenth Day” that would designate Juneteenth as a legal holiday.

Bracy, a Democrat representing part of Orange County, filed SB 490 in early January that would also authorize “Juneteenth Day as a paid holiday for employees of all branches and agencies of state government.”

For now, those bills related to public holidays will have to move through different committees and the full House and Senate to approve the legislation.