The first rule of civil public discourse: don’t compare people to Nazis. The recent article on the front page about the proposed legislation separating the holidays honoring Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert E. Lee contained a quote comparing the joint holiday to honoring “Nazis Germany day on the same day as Holocaust Remembrance Day.” Not only do I think that this is not exactly civil discourse, I believe that it is not an accurate characterization either.
The Arkansas legislation recently voted down a proposal to separate the holidays of the two men. I believe that the two holidays should be separated, but to describe Lee and King as antithetically opposed to one another is an oversimplification.
The historical anecdote of Lee freeing the slaves he inherited in 1862 is well known. Lee is certainly not a hero of the civil rights movement, but to paint him as devoted to preserving slavery is unfair. While slavery was easily the largest issue driving the Civil War, Lee (like the war itself) was complex and best not painted with black and white strokes.
I hope that, in the future, Arkansas will choose to separate the two men’s holidays. The misunderstanding that it presents is too great a cost to pay. Thanks to men like King, we have come a long way in the South, and we have a long way left to go.
However, when I am older, I will teach my children that both Lee and King were great men. They were men with many imitable qualities, despite their public failings, and they are both important parts of the complicated racial legacy that will forever haunt the South. I will, however, teach my children that neither of them were Nazis.
-Trent Minner, senior marketing major