Why Monday is no longer Confederate Memorial Day in Georgia

The fourth Monday in April had for decades been known in Georgia as Confederate Memorial Day. But this year, the day goes by the much more neutral title: "State Holiday."

Most state employees will still take Monday off, but they will no longer officially be memorializing the South's casualties. That's because Gov. Nathan Deal in 2015 struck Confederate Memorial Day and Robert E. Lee's birthday from the state's official holiday calendar, replacing them with the less controversial nomenclature.

Deal's decision to quietly change the names came amid increased scrutiny of Georgia's embrace of Confederate symbols after the massacre of nine black worshipers at a Charleston church by a suspected white supremacist.

State-issued license plates featuring the Rebel emblem have been altered, though only slightly. A statue honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. on the statehouse grounds was unveiled last year.

And state officials proposed to build a memorial for black soldiers near Stone Mountain, the towering paean to the Confederate war dead.

In a 2015 interview, Deal said the holiday name change was meant to "show that we are a state that has come a very long way."

"We are tolerant of a lot of things. But we will also protect our heritage," he said, adding: "This was not one of those areas where I thought it was necessary to keep those labels associated with the holiday.”

The debate over Civil War era monuments rages on.

Lawmakers this year sidestepped a fight over legislation that would let local communities decide whether to remove Civil War monuments. Next year, though, Deal's successor could take a different tack.

The five leading Republican candidates largely oppose changing existing state law that protects the more than 170 Civil War monuments around the state.

Democrat Stacey Evans, a former state legislator, wants to overhaul the law to allow local communities to decide whether the monuments should remain on their grounds. Her opponent, former state House leader Stacey Abrams, wants to remove the carving from the state-owned Stone Mountain.