Local MLK and Lee-Jackson Day festivities clash

Both parades in downtown Lexington boasted the largest crowds they’ve seen since 2020


Bri Hatch

Lee-Jackson Day attendees gathered in Oak Grove Cemetery before marching.

Bri Hatch and Shauna Muckle

Well over 100 local community members and far-traveling tourists gathered in Oak Grove Cemetery on Jan. 14 to honor Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson in an annual Lee-Jackson Day parade.
Attendee Bill Potter, who has participated in the event for eight years, said crowd size was “the biggest we’ve seen here. Many more memorials, more flags.”
Last year, fewer people showed up for the parade due to an impending snow storm. And in 2020, Gov. Ralph Northam stripped Lee-Jackson Day of its status as a Virginia state holiday. But attendees still flock to Lexington each year to commemorate the two Confederate generals the weekend before Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
“You could say Stonewall Jackson would have been the first civil rights worker before Martin Luther King, teaching Blacks how to read,” said Steve Schramm, who traveled from Williamsport, Pennsylvania. “From what I know of Jackson and Lee, they were great military generals with strong moral fiber and Christian values.”
Attendee Braxton Spivey travels each year from Charleston, South Carolina for the parade.
“I don’t speak about Robert E. Lee the general, I speak about Robert E. Lee the individual,” Spivey said.
Participants dressed in Civil War attire and adorned with Confederate flags marched down Main Street early Saturday morning. Supporters also stood on street corners with signs and flags beginning Friday.
The University Committee on Inclusiveness and Campus Climate sent a mass email to students on Jan. 10 to warn about the parade and offer resources for support.

A crowd of people carrying signs march down a downtown street near a church.
Community members parade through downtown Lexington to honor Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy. Photo by Bri Hatch, ’23

“The University does not have any connection with these events,” the email said. But “Lexington is the site of several events commemorating the Confederacy,” including the on-campus University Chapel where Robert E. Lee is buried.

Washington and Lee’s proximity to the two Confederate generals in both name and history, and current events like the Lee-Jackson Day parade, clashes with community celebrations of Martin Luther King Jr. Day on the same weekend.
Lexington community members and university students marched down Main Street from the Randolph Street United Methodist Church on Jan. 16 — two days after the Lee-Jackson parade — to honor King’s legacy. CARE Rockbridge, a nonprofit dedicated to anti-racism efforts in Rockbridge County, has organized the parade every year since 2017.
Attendee Kiera Stankevich, ‘25, said the connection between Washington and Lee and the confederate generals has reshaped the way she views Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
“Just seeing the juxtaposition between the [Lee-Jackson Day] flaggers and the people here, it’s really important — especially as students — that we show our support that Black lives matter,” Stankevich said.
The entire Washington and Lee men’s lacrosse team participated in the parade as a “student-driven” effort to “show our love for the community and show up for MLK,” Jack Todd, ‘25, said.
“If we all show up together as a team, I feel like that’s the best way to show that,” Todd said.