Confederate Memorial Day has been struck from Georgia’s official 2016 state holiday calendar. So has Robert E. Lee’s birthday.
Both have quietly been replaced with the more neutral term “state holiday.”
The change was reflected in emails from Gov. Nathan Deal that landed in state employees’ inboxes this week.
The 2015 state calendar clearly listed April 27 as the Confederate holiday and Nov. 27 as Lee’s birthday (he was actually born in January).
Deal spokesman Brian Robinson said the state still intends to celebrate the days even if it doesn’t “spell it out by name.”
“There will be a state holiday on that day,” he said. “Those so inclined can observe Confederate Memorial Day and remember those who died in that conflict.”
But some took a deeper meaning from the notable omission.
Tim Pilgrim, a leader of the Georgia division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, said he was concerned about the shift.
“We don’t want Georgia to turn its back on history,” he said. “They can’t erase and remove our history. That’s unacceptable for us.”
State Sen. Vincent Fort, who is drafting a bill that would remove Confederate Memorial Day from the list of sanctioned state holidays, said the governor’s “inartful dodge” won’t change his plans.
“With a wink and nod they are saying ‘we are removing the name but you know it’s a day that we celebrate people who supported treason and slavery,’ ” the Democrat from Atlanta said. “I’m not mollified.”
Throughout the South, the use of Confederate symbols and holidays has come under increased scrutiny since the massacre in June of nine black worshippers at a Charleston, S.C., church. Charged in the killings was a man suspected to be a white supremacist. South Carolina legislators swiftly voted to remove the Confederate battle emblem from state Capitol grounds after the shooting.
The Confederate battle emblem is already gone from Georgia’s own flag, but there has been some controversy over whether the state should continue to produce a vanity license plate that displays the symbol. In a sign of the popularity the symbol still enjoys, hundreds of Confederate battle flag supporters descended on Stone Mountain on Saturday to celebrate what they say is an important symbol of their heritage.
Deal has remained mostly silent on the controversies, and the change on Thursday was made without any announcement or fanfare.
It echoed the way the Republican governor had the statue of Tom Watson booted from the state Capitol’s grounds in 2013. Critics had long called for the removal of the bronze likeness of the one-time populist turned white supremacist who vilified blacks, Catholics and Jews. Deal said it was being removed for safety reasons because the steps near the statue were in disrepair. Watson was removed unceremoniously during a state holiday when few were around to see.
Georgia NAACP President Richard Rose called Thursday’s calendar change “grudging progress.”
“There is absolutely no reason we should be celebrating Confederate Memorial Day,” Rose said. “There is is no Confederate States of America, and there hasn’t been for 150 years.”