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story.lead_photo.caption Deborah Washington (left) and Jacquelyn Block, members of St. Paul Grand Lodge’s Daughters of Ruth chapter, wave from their float Monday in Little Rock during a march and parade honoring civil-rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. More photos are available at - Photo by Stephen B. Thornton

Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Monday that he will have to "wait and see" if state lawmakers take up his effort to separate the dual celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Robert E. Lee Day, though he's "confident it's the right thing to do."

Gallery: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Marade

At an interfaith prayer breakfast celebrating the civil-rights activist at St. Mark Baptist Church in Little Rock, the governor echoed his belief that King needs a holiday of his own.

The breakfast was part of several activities held Monday in Little Rock to observe the national holiday for King.

The 34th annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Marade -- a march and parade -- traveled along Martin Luther King Jr. Drive to the state Capitol. Central High School opened its doors to the public for a "Mega Kingfest" celebration of music, song and international dance, filling the school's auditorium.

King's Jan. 15 birthday and Lee's Jan. 19 birthday, a state holiday, are observed together on the third Monday of January. Alabama and Mississippi also recognize both as a split holiday.

Hutchinson told Arkansas Online that he thinks the celebration of King "deserves a day unto itself" without distraction or a "different message" that conflicts with his legacy.

No bill to observe the two men on separate days has been filed with the state Legislature yet, and Hutchinson is still in the process of finding a lawmaker to sponsor the proposal.

President Ronald Reagan signed a bill creating the federal holiday for King in 1983, and it was first celebrated in 1986. Arkansas has observed the birthday of Confederate Gen. Lee as a state holiday since 1943, according to records from the secretary of state's office. In 1985, the Legislature voted to merge the two birthdays into a single holiday.

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The Mega Kingfest was held at Little Rock Central High School as part of this year's 60th anniversary of the desegregation of the high school in 1957.

The program contained an international flavor, with dance and musical performances from Indian, South American, Irish and Scottish cultures. The Pine Bluff High School band also played, marching through the auditorium and onto the stage to perform.

Featured performer for the event was Grammy-nominated hip-hop artist Ricky Martin Lloyd Walters, who performs as "Slick Rick." Entertainer Kel Mitchell was scheduled to be master of ceremonies for Mega Kingfest but was unable to attend because inclement weather delayed his flight, DuShun Scarbrough, executive director for the Martin Luther King Jr. Commission, told the audience.

The program also included recognition of civil-rights leader Annie Abrams of Little Rock as the commission's 2017 Humanitarian Award winner and Paul Holderfield, minister at the Friendly Chapel Church of the Nazarene in North Little Rock, who received the 2017 Community Service Award.

The annual parade, sponsored by the Little Rock branch of the NAACP, began in the morning under stormy skies, but the rain held off.

About 250 people lined the street near the intersection of King Drive and Wright Avenue to watch for about an hour as participants strolled past or rode in vehicles, waving and tossing candy to the children along the route. The parade included cars, Little Rock Fire Department firetrucks, ATVs, horseback riders and flatbed trailers containing children.

Several vehicles sported posters with King's photo or signs reading "Stop the Violence," "Happy Birthday Martin Luther King Jr.," "Keep the Dream Alive" and, his most famous quote, "I Have a Dream."

On Monday night, Hendrix College in Conway and Philander Smith College in Little Rock kicked off their first joint public speaker series titled "Faith in Black and White: The Church and Race in 'Colorblind' America." The programs explore racial injustice in American culture and the role of the church in creating a racially equal society.

Metro on 01/17/2017

Print Headline: Governor: Right to split King, Lee day


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  • RBear
    January 17, 2017 at 4:54 a.m.

    Thank you Gov. Hutchinson for taking a position on this issue when lawmakers in the state seem to be dragging their feet. It is time to split the days and eventually drop Lee's day. Lee did nothing for this state or nation to be celebrated. He led a rebellion against the nation to uphold the right to own slaves. King led a civil rights movement to promote equality for all citizens. King's legacy should be honored. Lee's should not.

  • wolfman
    January 17, 2017 at 2:55 p.m.

    And we do this why...because a small group of people want it done. Keep as is.

  • RBear
    January 17, 2017 at 7 p.m.

    wolfman, a small group? I think it is a small group that want to keep it as it is. It's time to do the right thing and separate these. Right now, only AR, MS, and AL are the only three states that still do this. Relic of a racist past.