Monday was day to remember King, Lee
Published 7:00 am Wednesday, January 23, 2002
Monday was a day filled with irony when one considers some of the famous men that made the day famous.
Of course state and federal employees and a few others closed shop for the day and celebrated Monday, January 21, 2002 in remembrance of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose historic contributions to this country cannot be understated. In fact, in the latter half of the last century, it would be difficult to think of anyone who changed the way our country worked more than Dr. King did. He was a man of principle, of rare dedication and vision who saw a better way of doing things and a better way of treating people.
King paid the ultimate price for his battle, but he became a martyr for the cause which ultimately saw victory when "separate but equal" laws were overturned and when black Americans got full rights and constitutional protection from our country.
There is another great Southerner who didn't win his fight, though he didn't lose his life in it, and whose cause, while very different, was grounded in the same single-minded determination and dedication.
To several generations of white southerners, Monday was a day that many celebrated in remembrance of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. In the past, Alabama and other Southern States hailed the third Monday in January as a time to remember their heroes of their past.
Like it or not, Lee was one of those heroes to many people.
On the surface, some have made the ridiculous argument that Lee was the General who fought for the enslavement of black Americans. In reality, though, Lee was a man who went to war for his state and region to take up arms against something he had devoted his life to serving n his country. The Virginia native saw the South and his state of Virginia as his home and when the state and region seceded from the Union, Lee took sides with his home despite the fact that he had formal military training and was a soldier in the United States Army. When his state called him to action, he labored through a tough decision-making process and decided that if Virginia called him to action, he would heed its call.
Long before joining the Confederate cause, Lee had freed all slaves that had worked for him, while his opponent, General Ulysses S. Grant, the leader of the Union Army, behind Pres. Abraham Lincoln, still owned slaves until the date that his commander-in-chief set them free with the Emancipation Proclamation.
Lee's cause, like King's, was singular in focus. He wanted to stand up and fight for what he believed in, no matter what the odds were, or how slim his chances of victory would be.
He didn't want to prolong slavery; he was against it in practice. He didn't want to take up arms against the country he loved. He simply wanted to defend his home.
These two men n Lee and King n leave Southerners with many great lessons in life. Both made enormous sacrifices to fight brave battles against slim odds. King won, only after he lost his life. Lee lost, knowing full well at the beginning that his fate would be to lose. Still, both men gave everything they had in service of that in which they believed.
In itself, this is a valuable lesson that made Jan. 21, indeed, a day of ironic reflection as we look back on the lives and careers of two historic men in Southern history.