A state House of Representatives committee rejected a bill Wednesday that would separate the Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert E. Lee holiday into two.
Members of the State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee overwhelmingly voted no to House Bill 1113, sponsored by Rep. Nate Bell, R-Mena, that would have also created a "Patrick Cleburne - Robert E. Lee Southern Heritage Day."
Bell, the committee chairman, said he wasn't sure how many members voted no or yes for the bill, just that he heard "more noes than yeses."
Rep. Charles Blake, D-Little Rock, presented the bill to the committee and said HB 1113 would allow the state to not have to choose which holiday to celebrate.
"This would allow all Arkansas to honor our heritage and progress without them being in conflict with each other," Blake said. "We can celebrate our legacy and unity and celebrate the culture of our Southern roots."
Bell said he had Blake present the bill because he's received some threats and "strongly worded" opinions on Twitter about splitting the holiday into two.
Twenty-five residents from around the state signed up to speak against the bill, and only two people spoke in favor.
Wayne Fuller from Helena-West Helena, a community that already celebrates Cleburne, told the committee he thought the holiday should be left alone because "separate is not equal."
"We have enough wedges in politics and elsewhere," Fuller said. "I think [Southern Heritage Day] is an awesome idea and we would benefit from the tourism, but I really wish we could celebrate a non-separate but equal holiday."
Resident Kelly Duda said he supports the bill and hopes the committee will be sensitive to the fact that Little Rock is a "minority majority city."
"Having Lee Day on MLK Day is a jeer to the man who fought for equality," Duda said. "We need to stop being victims in the South. It's 150 years later, why are we still screaming about this?"
Rep. Bob Ballinger, R-Hindsville, said he thought the combined holiday is difficult to celebrate.
"It creates some awkwardness because if you celebrate Robert E. Lee right now on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, you're seen as a racist and Robert E. Lee wouldn't want that."
After the vote, Ballinger said he was a little disappointed to see the bill not pass the committee but that he was glad to see so much public involvement at the meeting.
Bell said he wouldn't speculate on whether he'll bring this bill back before committee. He did say he would like to see the bill passed.
Rep. Fred Love, D-Little Rock, has sponsored HB 1119, which would eliminate the Lee holiday, but has not run the bill before the committee, Bell said.
Read Thursday’s Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.