USA TODAY International Edition
Jefferson joins the holiday in Alabama
While some states have added Lincoln’s birthday into the official holiday name, other states celebrate it separately. Lincoln’s adopted home state of Illinois, as well as Missouri, New York and Connecticut observe his birthday on the weekday closest to the actual date, Feb. 12.
In Alabama, however, Thomas Jefferson’s birthday also is celebrated in February with Washington’s on “George Washington and Thomas Jefferson’s birthdays.” But Jefferson’s birthday is April 13.
According to Carlie Burkett, a reference archivist at the Alabama Department of Archives & History, Jefferson’s birthday was celebrated in April from 1907 until 1991 when it was combined with Washington’s Birthday in February.
“It appears that that’s just to reduce the number of state holidays,” she says.
Jefferson’s connection to the state is not clear, though he did appoint the second governor of the Mississippi Territory and Alabama’s first federal judge, documents from ADAH say.
According to Matthew Dennis, a University of Oregon professor, Jefferson himself preferred Inauguration Day, the honoring of “the office, not its occupier,” to celebrating Washington’s Birthday. “Jefferson himself, in his own time, sought to deflate the observation of Washington’s Birthday, believing that idolizing particular men, even the iconic Washington, was unworthy of a democracy,” Dennis told USA TODAY.
So why not just have separate holidays to celebrate each? It’s one way to prevent expanding the calendar, Dennis said. “Doubling up saves money while also satisfying a social and political responsibility to mark or remember,” Dennis says.
Why does Daisy Gatson Bates share the day?
Arkansas established Daisy Gatson Bates Day as an official state holiday in 2001. Bates was a prominent civil rights activist in Arkansas and was a personal advocate to the Little Rock Nine who became the first Black students to attend an all- white high school. Bates and her husband also started the Arkansas State Press, a weekly paper that supported civil rights.
The bill, spearheaded by former Rep. Tracy Steele, was originally meant to share the third Monday in January – Martin Luther King Jr. Day. It later was amended to George Washington’s Birthday in February, according to documents provided by the Arkansas State Archives department.
A 2001 Arkansas Democrat- Gazette article pointed to two reasons behind the date: February being Black History Month, and, as Steele said, “During a time of fiscal conservatism, we found a way to honor Daisy Bates that wouldn’t cost the state anything.”