Do Some US States Observe ‘Confederate Memorial Day’?

In South Carolina, government offices were closed May 10, 2021, to observe the holiday. It wasn't alone.

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Claim

A handful of U.S. states designate "Confederate Memorial Day" a legal holiday, as of spring 2021.

Origin

In mid-May 2021, Snopes became aware of numerous online searches to determine whether laws in some U.S. states designate a legal holiday to honor the Confederacy or Confederate soldiers who fought during the Civil War.

When we looked into the matter, we found that this is true.

As of spring 2021, official calendars for a handful of states still memorialize the 11 Southern states that temporarily seceded from the U.S. to try to maintain slavery, or the some 290,000 Confederate troops who died fighting the failed separationists’ cause.

The state-sanctioned holidays, which occur annually throughout January and June, spur events ranging from ceremonies to place flags and wreaths on Confederate soldiers’ graves to re-enactments of Civil War battles.

Over the years, civil rights activists mounted pressure on state legislatures to pass bills that would eliminate observances memorializing the Confederacy from official lists of legal holidays. Among such groups was the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which argued the holidays perpetuate racism and white supremacy.

“This is the heritage [some states] continue to champion,” SPLC Chief of Staff Lecia Brooks said in an April 26 statement. “One that not only is reflected in monuments, but also in school names, parks, municipalities, military bases, roadways, prisons, and flags, all ‘honoring’ a history of brutality and racial subjugation.”

Yes, Some States Recognize ‘Confederate Memorial Days’

According to Office Holidays, an online database of national and regional holidays, Georgia’s state legislature established the first “Confederate Memorial Day” in 1874, and at least 10 states followed suit in later years.

Below is a chronological list of Confederate memorial days as of this writing, including both unofficial and official holidays — the latter of which close government offices — based on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and reputable news outlets such as The Associated Press and Forbes:

  • Texas marks a state holiday called “Confederate Heroes Day” annually on Jan. 19 — the birthday of former Confederate general Robert E. Lee. State offices remain open but employees can take a paid day off to supposedly celebrate Lee, Confederate President Jefferson Davis, and other Confederate soldiers.
  • Mississippi and Alabama also observe Lee’s birthday (jointly with the birthday of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr.) in January, as well as close government and court offices for an official “Confederate Memorial Day” in late April. Both states also recognize Davis’ birthday on separate dates.
  • Florida holds a state-sanctioned “Confederate Memorial Day” on April 26. In 2021, no groups organized major events to mark the holiday, and state agencies remained open, according to Orlando Weekly. Florida also marks the birthdays of Lee and Davis.
  • South Carolina and North Carolina also commemorate an official “Confederate Memorial Day” each year on May 10, according to Greenville News. South Carolina closed state offices and some local government departments, while North Carolina allowed jurisdictions to decide for themselves whether they wanted to recognize the day.
  • Tennessee marks “Confederate Decoration Day” as an unofficial state holiday on June 3, per AL.com.
    • Here’s the Tennessee law.
  • Kentucky also recognizes “Jefferson Davis Day” and “Confederate Memorial Day” on that day, June 3, according to state statutes.

Other states eliminated similar designations from state calendars in recent years.

For example, in 2015, former Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal removed the title name “Confederate Memorial Day” and Lee’s birthday from the state’s legal docket outlining holidays, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

Most state employees still receive paid days off on both dates, and “those so inclined can observe Confederate Memorial Day and remember those who died in that conflict,” a spokesperson for the governor told the news outlet at the time.

Years later, in 2020, Virginia state leaders also removed its Confederate state holiday, Lee-Jackson Day, from its state calendar. By that time, only certain areas actually observed the holiday, though all government offices in the Commonwealth closed down for the day, according to NPR.

Also, Texas legislators are considering similar proposals to abolish “Confederate Heroes Day” as of this writing, according to legislative records. Laura Cannon, an assistant professor of history at The University of the Incarnate Word and supporter of the idea, told San Antonio’s KSAT-TV:

“[Removing] Confederate Heroes Day is not erasing history. It’s about changing the way we remember the war and it doesn’t eliminate people’s ability to honor their ancestors who fought in that war. It just says we don’t need a state holiday that labels the Confederates as heroes and their cause as heroic.”

In sum, considering state statutes and news archives that show several states commemorate the Confederacy with designated holidays, we rate this claim “True.”