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Alabama again honors Jefferson Davis’ birth with Monday holiday

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Planning to renew your driver’s license or pick up a marriage license for that June wedding? You’ll have to wait until after Monday.

Alabama state offices and Calhoun County offices will be closed in observance of the birthday of Jefferson Davis, the first and only president of the Confederate States of America.

Alabama is the last state with an official holiday that solely honors Davis; archived records show it’s been observed for at least a century. The Confederate leader was born in Kentucky on June 3, 1808, and was president of the Confederacy from 1861 to 1865. Mississippi also observes Davis’ birthday, but combines it with Memorial Day.

In Alabama, some feel the holiday serves as a reminder of the South’s history of slavery, while others believe it honors an important historical figure.

Bernard Simelton, president of the Alabama State Conference of the NAACP, said the state needs “to learn to get past the celebration of the Confederacy.”  

Simelton also said that holidays honoring the Confederacy are honoring “the people who fought against the United States of America.”

“In today’s environment, we call those people terrorists,” Simelton added.

Davis’ birthday is not the only Alabama holiday commemorating Confederate figures. The state also observes Robert E. Lee’s birthday in January, which it combines with Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, and Confederate Memorial Day in April.

Simelton believes these holidays are lingering reminders of slavery and oppression of African-Americans in Alabama, and that the state needs to reverse course if division is ever to be healed.

“The state is going in the wrong direction as far as being able to unite us together as one people,” Simelton said.

Others feel the holiday honoring Davis is not divisive, but simply honors an important figure in Southern history.

“I think it’s a wonderful thing that we observe our Southern heroes, because they are heroes,” said Rene Greene, president of the General William H. Forney Chapter 468 of the United Daughters of the Confederacy in Anniston. She said her opinions are her own and do not reflect the views of the organization “on any level.”

“You cannot erase history, you cannot change it,” Greene said.

Greene added that every holiday can be offensive to some people, not just holidays honoring the Confederacy.

“If we eliminate every holiday that offends someone, we will not have any,” Greene said.

Greene also said people who oppose the holiday should respect the views of those who support it.

“Just as I don’t begrudge any factions or groups celebrating their heroes, I don’t feel they should object,” Greene said, “Because these heroes are Southerners and represent our heritage.”

Greene added that her chapter does not have any official ceremony celebrating Davis’ birthday.

Lynda Lowery of the Major General Patrick R. Cleburne Chapter 2632 of the United Daughters of the Confederacy in Heflin said the holiday represents tolerance of opinions.

“There are always issues that one race can find offensive about other races if that is their goal,” Lowery said via email.  “Our goal as human beings should be tolerance of differences.”

All state offices and Calhoun County offices and departments will be closed Monday in observance of the holiday, except for emergency services. All offices and departments for the cities of Anniston, Oxford, Jacksonville, Weaver and Piedmont will be open.