LITTLE ROCK — An Arkansas lawmaker filed a bill Tuesday to make Martin Luther King Jr. Day a stand-alone state holiday and end the state’s dual holiday celebrating both King and Robert E. Lee.
Senate Bill 519 by Sen. David Wallace, R-Leachville, would designate the second Saturday in October as Robert E. Lee Day, which would be a memorial day, not a state holiday. The third Monday in January would remain a state holiday but would honor King alone.
Arkansas has observed Robert E. Lee Day since 1947 and Martin Luther King Jr. Day since 1983. The holidays were combined in 1985 by an act of the Legislature that was signed into law by then-Gov. Bill Clinton. Two other states, Alabama and Mississippi, honor both men on the same day.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson has said one of his goals for the session is to end the state’s dual holiday celebrating King and Lee and make the third Monday in January a holiday for King only.
An effort to remove commemoration of Lee from the holiday failed in 2015 amid outcry from defenders of the Confederate general’s legacy. Hutchinson was not actively involved in that effort to separate the observances, which was led by a bipartisan group of legislators.
SB 519 also would require that Arkansas public schools provide instruction on American civil rights leaders, including King, and on Arkansas and the Civil War with an emphasis on “civilian and military leadership during the period and how the lessons of that era can inform contemporary society.”