Today, the State of Alabama will honor two men.
One was a man who advocated for peace and justice, who led peaceful protests and demanded non-violent resistance to abhorrent mistreatment of Americans based solely on the color of their skin.
All across America, people will celebrate the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who began his professional life at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery. And it was in Alabama that he led his most famous march — from Selma to Montgomery — that led to the signing of the Voting Rights Act and a swath of civil rights reforms.
Alabamians should honor and respect Dr. King’s bravery and sacrifice.
But in this state, he will share honors…with a confederate general.
Alabama is one of just two states (oh, Mississippi, you’re always there for us) that still recognizes and honors Robert E. Lee — the confederate general with more American blood on his hands than any terrorist in history.
There are many, many things that I could write to explain to you the offensiveness of splitting MLK Day with this American traitor. I could tell you, for example, of the documented incidents of Lee splitting up slave families for the sheer joy of watching them suffer, or of the way he beat his slaves, or just of the everyday cruelty he inflicted upon other humans.
Or I could tell you about the way Lee plotted and schemed to kill thousands of Americans. Simply so he and others in the South could continue owning other humans.
But I think maybe the best way to convey the idiocy, the offensiveness, the spitefulness and the downright ugliness of this holiday split is to remind you what the confederacy was all about.
So, here are portions of several confederate states’ secession documents — the official paperwork each state used to justify to their people their intentions to leave the Union. These are the true and undeniable reasons each state voted to secede.
Georgia: “The party of Lincoln, called the Republican party, under its present name and organization, is of recent origin. It is admitted to be an anti-slavery party. While it attracts to itself by its creed the scattered advocates of exploded political heresies, of condemned theories in political economy, the advocates of commercial restrictions, of protection, of special privileges, of waste and corruption in the administration of Government, anti-slavery is its mission and its purpose.”
Mississippi: “In the momentous step which our State has taken of dissolving its connection with the government of which we so long formed a part, it is but just that we should declare the prominent reasons which have induced our course. Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery– the greatest material interest of the world.”
South Carolina: “A geographical line has been drawn across the Union, and all the States north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States, whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery. He is to be entrusted with the administration of the common Government, because he has declared that “Government cannot endure permanently half slave, half free,” and that the public mind must rest in the belief that slavery is in the course of ultimate extinction.”
Texas: “We hold as undeniable truths that the governments of the various States, and of the confederacy itself, were established exclusively by the white race, for themselves and their posterity; that the African race had no agency in their establishment; that they were rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race, and in that condition only could their existence in this country be rendered beneficial or tolerable.”
Alabama: “And as it is the desire and purpose of the people of Alabama to meet the slaveholding States of the South, who may approve such purpose, in order to frame a provisional as well as permanent Government upon the principles of the Constitution of the United States.”
These were the ideals and beliefs that Robert E. Lee fought to protect.
Today, in 2019, Alabama will honor him alongside a man who, 100 years after Lee, peacefully advocated successfully for the basic human rights that Lee fought so hard to deny black Americans.
That’s embarrassing. And wrong. And a clear message to the rest of the world that Alabama simply can’t move past its racist history.