When the names of two holidays honoring the Confederacy vanished from Georgia's official calendar earlier this month, Gov. Nathan Deal followed the same template he's used to try to quiet other controversies: He moved very quietly.
There was no fanfare, no announcement, no press conference. There was simply an email to state employees listing the holidays, with the names of Confederate Memorial Day and Robert E. Lee's birthday gone. Both were replaced with the more neutral "state holiday" honorific.
Deal was pressured by a number of critics who questioned why the state still sanctioned a holiday memorializing the Confederate dead. And it came amid increased scrutiny of Old South symbols after a deadly rampage by a white supremacist led neighboring South Carolina to remove its Rebel flag from statehouse grounds.
The Republican explained Wednesday for the first time why he made the decision. Said Deal:
"It's hopefully a good faith effort on the part of state government to lower the degree of debate and discussion, and 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. But this was not one of those areas area where I thought it was necessary to keep those labels associated with the holiday."
The move, quiet as it was, has incited criticism from both sides of the debate. A flood of emails to the governor's office brought responses ranging from disappointment to charges of cowardice. The Sons of Confederate Veterans labeled it "an act of dishonor."
Even some of the loudest critics of the Confederate symbols. State Sen. Vincent Fort, the chamber's No. 2 Democrat, called it an "inartful dodge" and vowed to press on with legislation to remove Confederate Memorial Day from the list of sanctioned holidays.
Deal, for his part, said he sought to neutralize the state's official calendar so that people can "attach to the holiday any reason for it that they choose to attach."
"I thought in this day in time, that this was an appropriate thing for us to do."
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