The Arkansas House completed action Friday on the bill end a dual Robert E. Lee/Martin Luther King Jr. holiday in Arkansas. The vote was 66-11, with five voting present. The bill goes to the governor for his signature, which it would receive because he’d put himself on the line for the bill.
The King holiday on the third Monday in January will continue. Lee will have a memorial day in September, but it will not be a state holiday.
Hutchinson will have a ceremony to sign the bill Monday. He issued a statement:
I want to thank members of the House for their bipartisan support and passage of SB 519, and I especially want to thank Sen. Wallace and Rep. Hodges for their leadership on this landmark bill. The support for a separate holiday to recognize Martin Luther King far exceeded my expectations and speaks well of the General Assembly and our state. This bill was one of my priorities, and I was honored to testify for it in both Chambers. I look forward to having a signing ceremony that emphasizes the historic dynamic of this new day.
Rep. Grant Hodges, the sponsor, prefaced his introduction with remarks of his own Southern heritage. “We are not trying to disrespect anyone or our history,” he said. “We can recognize and remember both of these men on their own day and give them both their due.”
He urged House members to try to understand those who took offense in honoring both men on the same day. He said he’d heard objections to the bill, but no one had offered a good reason why both men should be honored on the same day.
He said the bill would be a national symbol of the state coming together in mutual understanding.
Speaking in opposition:
* Rep. Jana Della Rosa of Rogers: She said she spoke against Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s bill “because somebody needs to do it.” In 2015, she thought nobody cared. But now, she says, “It has made me mad.”
She went on: “We are not separating Robert E. Lee and Martin Luther King. We are taking Robert E. Lee and putting him in the basement and acting like we’re embarrassed. … We’re embarrassed of our heritage.”
She said, “This is being done for political correctness.” She said many people agreed with her. “If we learned anything in the last election, dpeople in Arkansas don’t care about political correctness.,” she said. “Look who we just elected president.”
* Rep. Brandt Smith of Jonesboro: He said he’d vote no because that’s what his constituents want. He warned that the decision could prompt further questions, such as the star on the Arkansas flag that symbolizes Arkansas’s membership in the Confederacy.
Speaking in support:
* Rep. Vivian Flowers of Pine Bluff. The leader of the Black Legislative Caucus, she began by praising Gov. Hutchinson and Sen. Jim Hendren for his “poignant” testimony in committee.She urged memers not to lose sight of this: “Dr. Martin Luther King was an American hero, a servant leader and a Christian whose great works and philosophy changed the world.” She recalled Arkansas’s history as one of the last to recognize the national King holiday and was forced to do so in a compromise that put Lee in the holiday observance.
A vote is not a vote for political correctness, but a vote of unity, to observe the day the same way 46 other states do.
* Rep. Charlie Collins of Fayetteville: He spoke briefly, reminding the members that the compromise that created the dual day was an effort to “color” the King holiday — to detract from it, I took him to mean.
* Rep. George McGill of Fort Smith. He said he had an ancestor in the Civil War, but he doesn’t know that story. He knows his own story, he said, as a black student with a big Afro at the University of Arkansas. He said he’ll tell his kids about the things he knows — “the great John Walker” and about another black representative, Eddie Armstrong. He praised Charlie Collins, too, though he said he hated his gun bill.
“What we’re doing is creating some space where we can educate our children,” he said. “They’ll know the truth about who we are. They’ll know the pain and suffering of war. They’ll know the paindand suffering of being mistreated.”
He recalled discrimination at UA. But he sasid he’d left that luggage behind. He invoked Lee, too, and the painful day in which he surrendered and tried to bring people together.