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Georgia Still Honors Robert E. Lee's Birthday

Today, and every Friday after Thanksgiving, is an official state holiday in Georgia, but it's not "Black Friday." It's the birthday of Robert E. Lee, the former general of the Confederacy.

Lee's birthday is actually on Jan. 19, but will be observed in Georgia on Nov. 23, the back end of Georgia's two holidays celebrating the legacy of the Old South. The first is the April observance of Confederate Memorial Day.

Savannah became the first city in America to celebrate Lee's birthday as a public holiday, holding its first commemoration of the occasion on Jan. 19, 1871.

Authorization for the holiday came in October 1870 after news of Lee's death reached the city, according to the University System of Georgia's GeorgiaInfo history website.

In 1924, 20,000 people attended the unveiling at Stone Mountain of the partially completed carving of Lee's head.

Celebrations of the holiday made it through Jim Crow and segregation, the Civil Rights Movement and after President Ronald Reagan signed the creation of Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 1983. Community celebrations have gradually gone away, except for the general's 200th birthday celebration in 2007, which attracted a Confederate honor guard to march into the Capitol.

Until 1984, Georgia's official state holidays specifically noted Lee's Birthday on Jan. 19, Confederate Memorial Day on April 26 and former Confederate president Jefferson Davis' Birthday on June 3.

Only Mississippi and Alabama still officially observe all three days, including combining Lee’s Birthday with the observance of MLK Day. Arkansas also observes Lee’s Birthday on MLK Day and South Carolina commemorates Confederate Memorial Day in May. Virginia citizens celebrate “Lee-Jackson Day” for the birthdays of Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson in January.

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