LITTLE ROCK — A Senate committee on Thursday quickly advanced a bill to strip commemoration of Robert E. Lee from Arkansas’ dual holiday in January celebrating the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Lee.
In a voice vote that was not unanimous, the Senate Education Committee gave a “do pass” recommendation to Senate Bill 519 by Sen. David Wallace, R-Leachville. The bill goes to the Senate.
The bill would designate the second Saturday in October as Robert E. Lee Day, a memorial day to be celebrated by gubernatorial proclamation and not a state holiday. The third Monday in January would remain a state holiday but would honor King alone.
The bill also would require that Arkansas public schools provide instruction on American civil rights leaders, including King, with the instruction timed to correspond with the state and federal King holidays.
Schools also would be required to provide instruction 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.”
Gov. Asa Hutchinson held a news conference Wednesday to announce his support for the bill. Separating Lee from the King holiday is part of his policy agenda for the session.
Hutchinson has said making the holiday a commemoration of King only is “the right thing to do.”
An attempt during the 2013 session to strip Lee from the holiday was not successful.
After Thursday’s committee meeting, Sen. Alan Clark, R-Lonsdale, said he voted against the measure because, as a Civil War buff, he believes the South should not diminish its history.
“I can’t be ashamed of those who fought and died for the Confederacy,” he said.