The national holiday honoring the life and memory of beloved civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. will no longer be celebrated in conjunction with that of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, a group of Arkansas lawmakers voted on Friday, March 17.
The proposed bill passed the state House by a vote of 66-11 last week, with legislators showing overwhelming support to separate the two holidays, the Associated Press reported. Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R-Ark.), who’s backed Senate Bill 519 since it was filed by Republican Rep. Grant Hodges and Sen. Dave Wallace in late February, is expected to sign the bill into law Monday, March 20.
“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,” Hutchinson said in a tweet.
The support for a separate holiday to recognize MLK far exceeded my expectations & speaks well of the General Assembly & our state. #arpx
— Gov. Asa Hutchinson (@AsaHutchinson) March 17, 2017
The new legislation will move the holiday honoring Lee from the third Monday in January, which is currently designated for the remembrance of King’s birthday, to the second Saturday in October. Because both King and Lee were born in the month of January, the state moved to combine the holidays in 1985, according to AP.
In addition to separating the holidays, the legislation will require the state Department of Education to develop a curriculum aimed at teaching students about the historical contributions of African-Americans like King. The lessons, which will begin during the 2018-2019 school year, would focus on historic leaders from the American Civil War period as well, local Arkansas station KFSM reported.
Mississippi and Alabama will be the only states to honor Lee and King on the same day once the Arkansas bill is signed into law.
“This is not a perfect solution, but it is a good solution,” Hodges said.
The Associated Press reported that a similar effort to eliminate Lee from the King holiday was proposed two years ago but failed to pass. Opponents of the measure argued that doing so would be an insult to the state’s Confederate heritage, as Lee wouldn’t have his own holiday.
“We are not separating Robert E. Lee and Martin Luther King,” Republican Rep. Jana Della Rosa told legislators before Friday’s vote. “We are taking Robert E. Lee and we are putting him in the basement and we’re acting like we’re embarrassed that he ever existed.”
Proponents of separating the two holidays included the NAACP, the city of Little Rock and Pulaski County.