Virginia House Votes With Senate To Abolish Lee-Jackson Day Election Day would become a state holiday instead.
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Virginia House Votes With Senate To Abolish Lee-Jackson Day

A statue of Stonewall Jackson on Monument Avenue in Richmond, Va. Paul Joseph/Flickr hide caption

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Virginia's government has moved one step closer to abolishing a state holiday that honors two Confederate generals.

On Thursday, the Virginia House voted 55-42 to pass HB 108, a bill that would remove Lee-Jackson Day as a state holiday. The legislation would make Election Day, the Tuesday after the first Monday in November, a state holiday instead.

A similar bill passed in the Senate in late January. Both chambers are majority Democratic.

Gov. Ralph Northam (D-Va) has said he supports the legislation. "I don't think there's any secret that it's in honor of two individuals who fought to prolong slavery which is not a proud aspect of Virginia's history," he said in early January.

The bill's passage marks another yet another Democratic-led shakeup in Richmond, the former capital of the Confederacy. Last month the General Assembly approved resolutions to pass the Equal Rights Amendment, and lawmakers will also consider a bill this session that would give cities and counties the authority to move war memorials like the Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville. Plans to remove the statue from a downtown park in 2017 catalyzed a white supremacist rally that resulted in the death of a counter protester.

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Civil rights groups including the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia celebrated Thursday's vote, which fell during Black History Month.

Lee-Jackson Day is observed on the Friday before Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. It was founded in 1899 to honor Virginia native Gen. Robert E. Lee on his birthday, Jan. 19. Virginia leaders amended the holiday 15 years later to include Gen. Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, whose birthday was Jan. 21.

In 1984 the state renamed the day Lee-Jackson-King Day to include the civil rights leader Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., but in 2000 the General Assembly reversed the decision and separated the two holidays.

Only certain parts of the state actually observe the holiday. A handful of jurisdictions choose not to recognize it, including Fairfax, Arlington and Loudoun counties and the cities of Fredericksburg, Charlottesville and Richmond, the state capital.

But in other areas, Lee-Jackson Day is a time for celebration. Lexington holds an annual parade in which people march down the city's main street and sing Civil War-era songs. All state government offices in the Commonwealth close down for the day, as well.

Nearly a dozen other Southern states also observe the holiday, and Texans celebrate "Confederate Heroes Day" on the same date.

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