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Why are Virginia courts closed the Friday before Martin Luther King, Jr., Day?

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NOTE: The following blog entry is adapted from my posting entry from last year.

Virginia courts and state offices are closed both on Martin Luther King, Jr., Day and the Friday before, which is [Robert E.] Lee-[Stonewall] Jackson Day.

Consequently, instead of the four-day weekend being a means of paying penance for Virginia’s shameful centuries-long role with slavery and segregation right into the second half of the 1960’s, here is the real story: 

Until 2000, Virginia set the same date for celebrating Lee-Jackson day and Martin Luther King, Jr., Day, until legislation passed to separate the two holidays with Lee-Jackson Day falling on the Friday before Martin Luther King Day. The Roanoke, Virginia, Times quotes a regional Virginia NAACP leader as follows on this peculiar holiday juxtaposition:

"The Rev. Glenn Orr, president of the Montgomery County-Radford City-Floyd County branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said it’s not a matter that members dwell on. ‘We’re really focused on honoring Dr. King rather than trying to tell somebody they can’t honor Lee, Jackson,’ Orr said. ‘We just celebrate our opportunity to remember Dr. King and the values that he helped us to develop.’"

Having visited the Washington, D.C./Virginia area three times before starting law school here in 1986, I knew full well that I was going to the South, at least when crossing the border into Virginia. As with probably many others, I was drawn to Washington, D.C., with the possibility of getting involved in what was going on in the nation’s capital. Ultimately, my resulting law practice is only relevant to the federal government for a small part of my law practice other than for my federal criminal defense work.  

Like Reverend Orr, this weekend I will do my best to focus on Dr. King, and to transcend my discomfort with the close juxtaposition of the Lee-Jackson Day celebration.