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story.lead_photo.caption Gov. Asa Hutchinson, at a news conference Wednesday, speaks out in support of the bill to separate Robert E. Lee’s name from the holiday now shared with Martin Luther King Jr., setting a state memorial day for Lee in October. - Photo by Benjamin Krain

Ending Arkansas' dual birthday celebrations for Robert E. Lee and Martin Luther King Jr. will be an "uphill battle," Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Wednesday, but one he is willing to engage in heading into the final month of the legislative session.

Along with Alabama and Mississippi, Arkansas is among the last of the Southern states to attach the Confederate general's name to the national holiday that celebrates the civil rights icon. Recent attempts to change that have met with fierce backlash.

Before the start of the session in early January, Hutchinson declared that ending the holiday would be among his legislative priorities. But the holiday, which fell on Jan. 16 this year, came and went with no bill being filed to change it.

On Tuesday, legislation was filed in the Senate to remove Lee's name from the holiday, and honor him with a separate state memorial day in October, the month the general died in 1870. The sponsors of the legislation are Sen. Dave Wallace, R-Leachville, and Rep. Grant Hodges, R-Rogers.

Hutchinson held a news conference Wednesday to announce his support for Senate Bill 519.

The governor described how visitors to the state Capitol on the January holiday are greeted with signs explaining the office's closure in honor of both men. Hutchinson said the dual holiday has created an image problem for the state.

"You can take one or other," Hutchinson said. "I believe that is a wrong choice, it is a bad choice and sends the wrong signal to Arkansans and to our young people."

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The governor thanked Hodges and Wallace for agreeing to attach their names to the proposal.

"Some said they would not, because it's a controversial piece," Hutchinson said.

Two years ago, separate bills were filed in the House to give Lee a different memorial day. Both failed after raucous committee hearings. The sponsor of one of those bills, former Rep. Nate Bell, an independent from Mena, said earlier this year that he received threatening messages from opponents.

Bell is no longer in the Legislature. The other previous sponsor, Rep. Fred Love, D-Little Rock, said at the start of this legislative session that his support had waned for any proposal to give Lee his own day.

At Wednesday's news conference, Hutchinson said he had gathered input from the Legislative Black Caucus while working on the bill. The chairman of the caucus, Rep. Vivian Flowers, D-Pine Bluff, said "there was no general opposition" from the members but that further tweaks would be sought.

"We're just trying to get it nailed down," she said.

Members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans will travel to Little Rock to oppose any legislation removing Lee's name from the holiday, said Arkansas division commander Robert Allan Edwards of Benton. He added that he had no intention of celebrating Lee's holiday on the second Saturday in October.

"That's the day he died," Edwards said.

A Section on 03/02/2017

Print Headline: Bill seeks to split Lee/King day; Holiday for both sends ‘wrong signal,’ Hutchinson says

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Archived Comments

  • RBear
    March 2, 2017 at 6:56 a.m.

    It is long pat time for this bill. I agree with Gov. Hutchinson and applaud the courage of the two legislators who finally sponsored the bill. Courage, because apparently opponents feel is acceptable to threaten anyone who even supports separating these two days. To be clear, Arkansas is one of THREE southern states who continue to honor both men on the same day.
    ...
    These two men represent different ends of the spectrum of equality. King fought to uphold the rights of African-Americans in our nation and throughout our state. His legacy can been seen in many ways, from the integration of our schools to the equality African-Americans have rightfully been restored to after decades of oppression by a white majority. Lee on the other hand, led a rebellion against the Union over the right of states to uphold oppressing African-Americans in indentured slavery, a practice that is now considered abhorable throughout the world. Any honor Lee might have garnered during his service prior to the rebellion was erased when he took up arms against our nation. Make no mistake. Lee left a legacy of rebellion against our nation when he made the decision to fight against it.
    ...
    To even consider honoring Lee on the same day as King is an abomination and sends the wrong message to the nation about our state as Gov. Hutchinson accurately outlines. It is time to show the nation we are a state that supports equality and has put aside the horrors of that period, much like Germany has worked diligently to erase the images of Nazi Germany.
    ...
    For those who argue moving King's holiday to another day, that would be just as bad as keeping them together since the nation has adopted a national holiday to honor King. Arkansas' day of honor would not be viewed as a tribute, but as a compromise to appease those who continue to support the acts of secession and the ideology behind it.

  • haphog
    March 2, 2017 at 8 a.m.

    RBear is an abomination to the honor of Robert E. Lee. A pure Politically Correct, march-in-step liberal who cannot honor two great men.

  • NoUserName
    March 2, 2017 at 8:45 a.m.

    Lee's home state of Virginia no longer honors him. There is no logical reason for Arkansas to honor a Confederate general from another state. That being said, MLK shouldn't have a Federal holiday either. Nor should Columbus or Jesus.

  • RBear
    March 2, 2017 at 8:50 a.m.

    Haphog, that's perfectly fine by me. I only honor those who honor our country and not rebel against it. Trust me, your attack on me doesn't bother me one bit. I'll wear this attack with honor in standing up for equality.

  • 3WorldState1
    March 2, 2017 at 8:55 a.m.

    No one is saying Lee can'tr be honored. Just not on the same day. Seems simple.

  • jerico69
    March 2, 2017 at 9:18 a.m.

    Wonder why our legislators are so obsessed with Robert E. Lee?

  • wildblueyonder
    March 2, 2017 at 9:38 a.m.

    I'll NEVER vote for Hutchinson again....nothing but a RINO!

  • RBear
    March 2, 2017 at 10:43 a.m.

    Tigerfan, honoring Lee is a Republican thing? Really? Last time I checked the only Republicans who want to keep honoring him reside in the three southern states that still do. I'm pretty sure it's not a national Republican issue. Not sure how this factors into a RINO conversation other than it was easy for you to spell.

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