LITTLE ROCK — Two days after Arkansas officially celebrated the birthdays of both the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert E. Lee, two state legislators filed bills to make the third Monday in January a celebration of King’s birthday only.

LITTLE ROCK — Two days after Arkansas officially celebrated the birthdays of both the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert E. Lee, two state legislators filed bills to make the third Monday in January a celebration of King’s birthday only.


Reps. Nate Bell, R-Mena, and Fred Love, D-Little Rock, filed House Bill 1113 and HB 1119, respectively, on Wednesday. Bell said he filed his bill because "I just believe it’s time that we get ourselves aligned with the federal holiday list and don’t sit here as one of the three states that is in that position."


The King holiday is both a federal and state holiday, but Arkansas — along with Alabama and Mississippi — also honors Lee with a state holiday on the same day. Some state and national pundits have questioned the appropriateness of a holiday honoring both a civil rights leader and a Confederate general.


Bell, who is white, said he does not personally consider the combined holiday inappropriate, but he said eliminating the state holiday for Lee makes practical sense.


"I certainly respect General Lee, but we’ve had a number of military generals over the years — you know, General (George) Patton and General (Douglas) MacArthur — and they don’t have national holidays," he said.


"Clearly, a lot of people like to put racial overtones into that situation, and I think it’s just better that we eliminate that, the way people see it," Bell said. "The way we begin to move past race in this country is, largely, stop recognizing it. So I want to see us begin to have less discussion of it, not more."


Love, who is black, did not immediately return a call Wednesday seeking comment.


According to the secretary of state’s office, which advises state offices when they are to close for holidays, Arkansas has observed Robert E. Lee Day since 1947 and Martin Luther King Jr. Day since 1983. The holidays were combined in 1985.


Secretary of State Mark Martin said Wednesday in a statement, "I am aware of the bills filed by Rep. Bell and Rep. Love and I support their efforts."