AUSTIN, Texas — Most Texans are aware of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which is observed on the third Monday of January each year. But many may be unaware of the quite different state holiday that is observed on Jan. 19.
"Confederate Heroes' Day" falls on Confederate general Robert E. Lee's birthday. However, the holiday is also meant to honor Confederate president Jefferson Davis and others who fought for the Confederacy as well.
According to Texas Monthly, the holiday was created by the Texas Legislature in 1973 and it is observed as a partial holiday, meaning state offices are still open but workers can take a paid day off it they want.
Texas Monthly reports that, in 1931, the Legislature made Lee's birthday a state holiday, adding it to the calendar along with Davis's birthday, June 3, which had been an official state holiday since 1905. But in January 1973, a bill was introduced in the Texas Senate to make former president Lyndon B. Johnson's birthday, Aug. 27, an official state holiday.
"Because holidays cost Texas money (the state gives employees paid time off), tight-fisted lawmakers decided to consolidate the Davis and Lee birthdays into a new Confederate Heroes Day on January 19, four days after the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr.," Texas Monthly reports.
Through the years, the state holiday has been met with some opposition. Texas lawmakers have been trying to get rid of it since 2015.
That year, Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin) filed HB 1242, which would have replaced the holiday with "Civil War Remembrance Day." In 2017, Rep. Helen Giddings (D-DeSoto) filed a similar bill, HB 2224.
In 2019, Rep. Jarvis Johnson (D-Houston) filed HB 1183, which would have abolished the holiday. He filed a similar bill, HB 36, in 2021, and he has filed another similar bill, HB 51, this session. State Sen. Nathan Johnson has filed similar legislation in the Texas Senate this session.
"Confederate Heroes' Day is a remembrance of a horrible past that has done irreparable damage to many of the residents of the state of Texas, and even today where children are growing up because it is a constant reminder of what our past truly was," Johnson said at a Jan. 18 press conference concerning HB 51. "The call now is to get rid of this harmful, hateful, holiday season. The revision[ist] history has to stop."
In recent years, there have been several efforts across Central Texas to remove statues and other iconography honoring the Confederacy.
In December 2021, a Confederate monument was removed from outside the Caldwell County Courthouse. Also in 2021, Hays High School moved to change its mascot from "Rebels" to "Hawks." At around the same time, in Williamson County, a billboard went up in Georgetown that advocated for the removal of a Confederate monument outside the courthouse.
Also in 2021, Rep. Rafael Anchía (D-Dallas) filed a bill calling for the removal of Confederate monuments on the Texas State Capitol grounds. Efforts have also been made to remove Confederate monuments from the Bastrop County Courthouse lawn.
Since 2021, the U.S. has observed Juneteenth as a federal holiday to observe the end of slavery. That holiday has Texas ties as well – it originated in Galveston, Texas, after the end of the Civil War.