Arkansas restores Martin Luther King
holiday without Robert E. Lee
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[March 18, 2017]
By Steve Barnes
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (Reuters) - Arkansas
lawmakers on Friday gave final approval to a bill setting aside an
official state holiday solely for slain civil rights leader Martin
Luther King Jr. and relegating Confederate General Robert E. Lee to a
separate, lesser observance.
Supporters of the legislation argued that celebrating a war hero of the
pro-slavery Confederacy on the same day as King's birthday, as has been
done for a quarter century, was an affront to the memory of the
African-American leader's nonviolent quest for racial equality.
Opponents of the bill denounced it as disrespectful of the state’s Civil
Governor Asa Hutchinson, a Republican who had lobbied both chambers of
the Republican-dominated General Assembly on behalf of the measure,
praised lawmakers for its passage.
“This bill was one of my priorities,” Hutchinson said. “The support for
a separate holiday to recognize Martin Luther King far exceeded my
The measure gained final passage in the state House of Representatives
on Friday, with bipartisan support from 66 members, while 34 Republicans
opposed the bill, abstained or voted "present." The Senate voted
overwhelmingly in favor of the bill last week.
“We are taking Robert E. Lee and putting him in the basement and acting
like we're embarrassed,” said state Representative Jana Della Rosa. “If
we learned anything in the last election, people in Arkansas don't care
about political correctness. Look who we just elected president."
Arkansans voted overwhelmingly last year for Republican Donald Trump
over Democrat Hillary Clinton in the presidential race.
The King birthday holiday will continue to be observed on the third
Monday of January in Arkansas. The legislation approved Friday
stipulates that the second Saturday in October will be recognized as a
“memorial day” for Lee but will not count as an official state holiday.
[to top of second column]
Former Rep. Asa Hutchinson (R-AR), a consultant of the National
Rifle Association, discusses the findings and recommendations of the
National School Shield Program at the National Press Club in
Washington, DC, U.S. on April 2, 2013. REUTERS/Gary Cameron/File
King, who was assassinated in 1968, and Lee, the commander of the
Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, are still honored jointly in
Mississippi and Alabama.
Hutchinson has long advocated separating the two observances. An
attempt to do so in 2015 sputtered amid protests from Confederate
history enthusiasts and cultural conservatives.
In an apparent attempt to defuse opposition, lawmakers included
language in the bill specifying that Arkansas public schools
instruct pupils in “civilian and military leadership” during the
Civil War as well as the civil rights movement.
Arkansas’s original Lee holiday was enacted in 1947, and the King
designation in 1983. Two years later the two holidays were combined.
(Editing by Steve Gorman)
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