LITTLE ROCK — A bill to end Arkansas’ dual celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Robert E. Lee Day failed for the second time in a House committee Wednesday following more than two hours of testimony and debate that at times grew heated.

LITTLE ROCK — A bill to end Arkansas’ dual celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Robert E. Lee Day failed for the second time in a House committee Wednesday following more than two hours of testimony and debate that at times grew heated.


House Bill 1113 by Rep. Nate Bell, R-Mena, cannot be considered a third time, although another House member said he plans to seek passage of a similar bill.


Bell’s bill called for the third Monday in January to be designated as Martin Luther King Jr. Day only and for Nov. 30 to be declared Patrick Cleburne-Robert E. Lee Southern Heritage Day to honor two Confederate generals, although the day would not be a state holiday.


Bell told the House State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee that celebrating King and Lee on the same day gives "a tool" to people who want to promote racial divisiveness.


"I’ve heard on numerous occasions, and I’m confident that most of you have, people in our own communities say, ‘I’m not celebrating a holiday for that’ — we’ll not use that word here — ‘I’m celebrating Robert E. Lee Day,’" Bell said.


"This bill is important to improve the image of our state and perceptions about our state around the nation and around the world," he said. "The fact that we’re one of three states that continue to celebrate a combined holiday is regularly used as proof that we’re somehow backward, racist, etc."


The other two states that have dual holidays for King and Lee are Alabama and Mississippi.


Bell also told the committee he has received "thinly veiled threats" from opponents of the bill. He played a recording of a phone call from someone who called Bell a "traitor" and said there would be "consequences" for filing the bill.


Grant Tennille, former director of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, spoke in support of the bill, which he said would help attract businesses to the state.


"You should approve this bill because it sends the right message around the globe that Arkansas is a place where all kinds of people and all kinds of businesses are welcome and sought," he said.


Among those who spoke against the bill was Dewey Spencer of Judsonia, who said, "We talk about diversity. Well isn’t that what we have when we have a holiday, we have a celebration for Robert E. Lee and we have a celebration for Martin Luther King?"


Activist and filmmaker Kelly Duda of Little Rock said of Lee, "His cause was not a noble one."


"Lee fought to maintain the institution of slavery, did he not?" Duda asked.


"No!" responded several people in the room.


"That was, after all, what the Civil War was about," Duda said.


"No!" several audience members responded, more loudly this time.


Lawyer and Civil War re-enactor John Crain of Mountain Home said the bill "shows no respect to Robert E. Lee whatsoever."


Rep. John Walker, D-Little Rock, asked Crain if he believed it was important for Arkansas to send a message to the world that it supports King’s ideals. Crain said he agreed.


"I’m proud to call my colored brothers my brothers," Crain said.


Walker told Crain, "Having reference to persons of my race as ‘colored brothers’ is a relic of slavery and it’s insulting."


Crain apologized to Walker for using the term.


Rep. Josh Miller, R-Heber Springs, said, "I think it’s pretty neat that we in the state of Arkansas are able to peacefully and happily celebrate both men on the same day."


The bill, which the committee previously rejected, failed Wednesday in a 7-10 vote.


Bell told reporters later, "There is a lot of intimidation out there, and I get that."


Rep. Fred Love, D-Little Rock, has filed a bill that would end the celebration of Robert E. Lee Day and does not propose any new day honoring Lee. Despite the failure of Bell’s bill, Love said he will ask the committee to consider his bill.


"We still have to fight on," he said.