Another rip-roaring debate on Arkansas’s honoring civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. and Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee on the same day was abruptly truncated this morning because of a lack of a quorum in the House committee.
Rep. Fred Love’s bill would have made the third Monday in January a state holiday solely in honor of Martin Luther King. Lee would be noted by gubernatorial proclamation as a “memorial day,” not a holiday, on the second Friday in January.
Two attempts had been made unsuccessfully earlier on a different piece of legislation to end the dual observance.
The debate was ended about 40 minutes into the hearing when Republican Rep. Michelle Gray asked Chairman Nate Bell if a quorum was present. He said eight members of the 20-member were present, short of the majority required and he declared the meeting over. The ruling came shortly after Robert Edwards of Benton, active in the Sons of Confederate Veterans, called the bill “discriminatory” and “racist.”
I did catch some new testimony from Larry Page, who heads the Arkansas Faith and Ethics Council, a group that lobbies on such issues as gambling and alcohol. He said he was the father of five children, two of them adopted black children, and he’d been unable to come up with a reason to explain to them why the state honored Lee and King at the same time.
Even Virginia, Lee’s home state, has ended the dual observance, he noted. He explained, too, why the dual holiday was offensive. Had Lee’s army won “the pernicious and evil institution of slavery would have been perpetuated for we don’t know how long.” He said the bill did not rewrite history, but acknowledged it. He said no change would be done to Lee’s legacy.
But he said Arkansas’s legacy is “still a work in progress.” Its legacy now is the desegregation crisis at Central High School. “We’ve moved a long way,” he said, “we have a chance to move further.” He said the change would be done freely, without compulsion or federal intervention. “It’s an opportunity to do something because it’s the right thing to do.” Some have said it’s the right thing, but the wrong time.
“When is it never the right time to do the right thing?”
Answer: Friday, March 20, 2015, 150 years after Lee’s losing war against the Union ended.
UPDATE: Rep. Gray, whose question ended the meeting, told the AP afterward that the issue had been decided, her constituents opposed the bill and members were tired of hearing about it.