To those who say that eliminating the state holiday Robert E. Lee Day is an attempt to "change history," I say, let's look at some history ...
In Arkansas, Robert E. Lee Day was established in 1947. At this time, the confederacy was making a big comeback. A breakaway faction of southern Democrats, known as the Dixiecrats, had aligned themselves with the segregationists to oppose President Harry S. Truman, along with any attempts of integration.
Truman, who had established the highly visible President's Committee on Civil Rights, would soon order an end to discrimination in the military and the federal work force. Southern electors weren't happy about these changes.
Chief among them was Gov. Ben Laney of Arkansas, a staunch segregationist, who opposed Truman's civil rights measures, including federal laws against poll taxes and lynching. Governor Laney went on to become the top choice to serve as the Dixiecrat presidential nominee in 1948. However, he backed out at the last minute, leaving the nomination to another segregationist, South Carolina Gov. Strom Thurman.
Under Governor Laney, Lee Day was established as a state holiday as part of this political agenda to reinforce white supremacy.
A decade later, during the desegregation crisis at Little Rock Central High, confederate imagery was displayed alongside signs that declared, "Race Mixing is Communism" and "Keep the White Schools White K.K.K." This legacy of using the symbols, slogans and images of the confederacy, including the Confederate flag, to enforce discrimination and reinforce racism would continue in Arkansas, and the rest of the South, for many more years.
Let's not forget--Lee was a slave owner and, thus, a racist. In the Civil War, as an army general, he fought to uphold and protect the institution of slavery. In this capacity, he led a rebellion against the United States of America. And he lost.
Even after the South had surrendered, Lee publicly advocated against African Americans obtaining civil rights. He also wanted all freed slaves expelled from his home state of Virginia. Simply put, Lee was on the wrong side of history.
The irony is Robert E. Lee would not have wanted a holiday named after him. Lee himself wrote, "I think it wiser moreover not to keep open the sores of war, but to follow the examples of those nations who endeavoured [sic] to obliterate the marks of civil strife and to commit to oblivion the feelings it engendered."
Lee did not want divisive symbols following him to the grave. To this end, at his funeral in 1870, the Confederate flag wasn't present. Former Confederate soldiers marching in attendance did not wear Confederate uniforms. And most notably, Lee was not buried in his uniform.
Lee was even opposed to erecting monuments on the battlefields where Confederate soldiers had fought against the Union under his command.
The question today's lawmakers need to ask themselves is, "Do we really want to celebrate this relic of Jim Crow in 2017? And do we want it celebrated alongside Martin Luther King Jr. Day?"
Gov. Asa Hutchinson doesn't. And neither should his fellow Republicans. Or Democrats.
Robert E. Lee helped tear this nation apart. Martin Luther King Jr. helped bring us together. Now, with our country again so deeply divided--politically, economically and socially--we need more unity, not more reminders of our divided past. Martin Luther King Jr. was a great American who sacrificed his life for unity, equality and love.
It's time for the state of Arkansas to eliminate Robert E. Lee Day. It's time for the state of Arkansas to be on the right side of history.
Kelly Duda lives in Little Rock.
Editorial on 01/16/2017
Print Headline: On the right side