Yes, really.

Not one of the teachers with whom I work at Lee Arrendale State Prison knew that the state of Georgia officially observes Confederate Memorial Day.  I found out last month from one of my classroom aides, an inmate who pointed out the date (April 27) on the official calendar of state holidays.  When I told my fellow teachers they either were incredulous and speechless or accused me of making this up.

I’m not making it up. But very few people in Georgia know that Confederate Memorial Day is an official state holiday. Apparently all state offices are closed, and state prisons have a “down day” during which many regular activities (like classes at the charter high school within the prison) do not take place.

Photo credit: pbs.org
Photo credit: pbs.org

Since public schools remain open and have not celebrated Confederate Memorial Day since the early 1960s, and since other offices and businesses remain open as well, there’s really no reason anyone should even notice that this is a state holiday.  The only people directly affected are state employees, most of whom are concentrated within the city of Atlanta.

So we were surprised and, in fact, offended that our state continues to remain in the 19th century by officially setting aside a day to honor a way of life that was based on the ownership, buying and selling of human beings.  I say this as a descendant of Confederate veterans who include a planter who owned slaves and a yeoman farmer who never owned slaves. DNA testing has proven that I also am a descendant of slaves, Sub-Saharan West Africans of the Mandinka people from modern Senegal and of the Yoruba people from modern Nigeria.

But Georgia is not the only Southern state to celebrate Confederate Memorial Day, although other states may recognize a different date:

Photo credit: http://www.timeanddate.com/holidays/us/confederate-memorial-day
Photo credit:
http://www.timeanddate.com/holidays/us/confederate-memorial-day

Is this just honoring our heritage, as so many people here say?  The state has observed the day since the end of the Civil War.  When the Georgia legislature passed Senate Bill 27 in 2009, formally recognizing April as Confederate History and Heritage Month, they urged all Georgians to “honor, observe, and celebrate the Confederate States of America, its history, those who served in its armed forces and government, and all those millions of its citizens of various races and ethnic groups and religions who contributed in sundry and myriad ways to the cause which they held so dear.”  This was a cause based on slavery, pure and simple. What message is this sending to the people of Georgia today, to state employees of all races, and to the inmates of state prisons, half of whom are non-white? What does it say to the American people, and the world?

Atlanta writer Payson Schwin, in an article published today, asks the same question and states,” I imagine most African-Americans, who make up 31 percent of the state’s population, might not want to celebrate the Confederacy. Nor would the Hispanic-Americans and Asian-Americans who make up 14 percent of the state, or any minority group for that matter. Nor would the millions of Northerners who have moved to Georgia over the past few decades, many of whom had ancestors fight for the Union. Come to think of it, I don’t think most white people like me who were born and raised in the South — owners of the Confederate flag license plate notwithstanding— identify in the slightest with Georgia’s antebellum culture of enslavement.”

Photo credit: chronicle.augusta.com
Photo credit:
chronicle.augusta.com

By all means, people can remember and honor their Southern heritage; the Sons of Confederate Veterans and other re-enactment groups can stage battle re-enactments; people can fly the Confederate battle flag at their homes. They can put 100 battle flags on their front lawns or fly them from the aerials of their cars for all I care. (In fact, people do fly the flags from their cars where I live.) But can the state of Georgia please move into the 21st century and do away with Confederate Memorial Day as an official state holiday?

I suspect this post (assuming anyone reads it to the end) may cause me to lose some followers or some friends on Facebook.  So be it.

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5 thoughts on “At the Prison: No School Today. It’s Confederate Memorial Day. Really?

      1. No worries my friend. Sometimes it is the times when we stand up for what we believe in that we see who our true friends are. I went through something like this over the past couple years and despite being sad over the comments I got, I was happy to learn who my real friends are x

        Liked by 1 person

  1. To be quite honest, I think the whole Confederate Memorial Day exists to make a glorification of the people who died in the war. Make it look it was worth all the death. I mean, it was the deadliest, most destructive war in US history and very likely the deadliest war in the history of North America since European settlement…with all that death, it has to have been for a good reason. I mean, I really have no problem with individual families going to the graves and honoring their ancestors who died in the war who happened to be Confederates. Family is still family, even if the modern family strongly disagrees with the thoughts, feelings, and actions of their ancestors. It’s probably a similar situation for modern families in Germany most of whom I’m sure have relatives who died in WWII fighting for Adolf Hitler’s attempt to take over the world and kill everyone who disagreed with him or was different from the “superior race”. But with that said, NO one in Germany celebrates anything associated with the Nazi era. In fact, it’s considered a disgraceful period, Nazism is effectively banned in Germany and citizenry of both the old West and East Germany hate Hitler’s guts to this day. It should be the same in the South, and if Reconstruction had been allowed to continue with no Jim Crow laws, equal rights for African-Americans and other minorities to be able to vote and participate in the political process as politicians, as well as strong condemnation and counter-terrorism efforts against groups like the Ku Klux Clan, the South probably today and even throughout the entire 20th century, with African-Americans and whites working and living together and learning how to be peaceful with each other, would probably be like Germany today, strongly condemning any sort of glorification of the Confederacy. By the way, Seattle actually has a Confederate cemetery. In fact, it is in my old neighborhood where I used to live. I didn’t even know about it until 10 or so years ago when it was vandalized. Apparently, many Confederate war vets moved out of the South after the war and moved west, including to Seattle (which by 1870 had only been in existence for 28 years). They probably formed private vet groups and the cemetery was established for vets who passed away. Again, no problem with families honoring their Confederate war vet ancestors. But the glorification of a war of treachery and maintaining slavery is completely ridiculous.

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    1. Very interesting about the Confederate cemetery in Seattle. I saw in the newspaper yesterday that Confederate Memorial Day is celebrated in Brazil. After the Civil War, many Southerners apparently moved to Brazil, and their descendants still celebrate the day… I agree with your sentiments. The war is over, and the South lost, which is a very good thing.

      Liked by 1 person

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