Biloxi, Mississippi, is facing outrage after sending a tweet that referenced Monday, Jan. 16, as “Great Americans Day” instead of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
However, a city official says that they are being unfairly targeted for an outdated city ordinance established years ago that legally amended the name of the holiday.
The tweet in question was posted Friday evening to notify the community that non-emergency city offices would be closed for the holiday.
Within hours, people began calling the city out for not using the federal name for the holiday, which honors the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who led the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and ’60s.
The city quickly responded to the backlash on Facebook, initially claiming that it was using the holiday name that was officially designated by the state. (This claim could not be verified by The Huffington Post.) They also pointed out that the city celebrates MLK Day every year with city-sponsored events and parades that honor King, all of which are clearly promoted on their website and social media pages.
“Here in Biloxi, we embrace cultural diversity,” Vincent Creel, the city’s public affairs manager, told The Huffington Post on Friday. “In fact, in the same Facebook page and Twitter account that everybody’s talking about, we’re touting our MLK Day celebration.”
Biloxi Mayor Andrew “FoFo” Gilich also defended the city, saying that he is not opposed to the federal holiday’s original name.
Creel attempted to distance Biloxi from some of Mississippi’s racial tension, pointing out that, every year, the state of Mississippi legally designates the third Monday in January a state holiday that honors the birthdays of both King and Robert E. Lee, the Confederate general.
“For whatever reason, the state couldn’t bring itself to just say ‘Martin Luther King Jr. Day,’” Creel said of the state’s inclusion of Lee in the holiday. “Somewhere along the lines, that evolved into ‘Great Americans Day,’ unfortunately. And yes, I did say ‘unfortunately.’”
After some research on Friday evening, Creel discovered some unsettling news about his city: Biloxi’s own City Council was actually involved in erasing King’s name from the state holiday.
Two years after the U.S. government designated MLK Day a federal holiday in 1983, the city of Biloxi legally renamed the state holiday to “Great Americans Day,” as revealed in the recorded minutes of a 1985 City Council meeting posted on the city’s website.
But the backlash may do some good for the city.
Gilich issued a news release late Friday requesting that the City Council change the name of the holiday back to Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
“That is the appropriate step to take for the holiday to have the same name as the federal holiday,” Gilich said in the news release. “The city’s longstanding support of our annual MLK celebrations speaks volumes about our support for this holiday.”
When asked why the city’s social media manager did not just use the holiday’s formal name in the first place, Creel said they were just following their code of ordinances and they were not trying to belittle the federal holiday.
“It was an innocuous little thing letting people know that city offices will be closed on Monday,” Creel told HuffPost. Now, he added, “we are being unfairly characterized. This is going viral in a way that’s unfair.”
Still, some Biloxi residents were not pleased with the city’s tweet.
Mississippi, Arkansas and Alabama are the only states that celebrate Lee’s birthday along with King’s.