Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed a bill Tuesday that ended that state’s practice of combining the birthday holidays of civil rights icon Martin Luther King and Civil War confederate general Robert E. Lee.
The new law removes Lee from the state holiday which honors King on the third Monday in January. Lee would be commemorated with a memorial day, not a state holiday, on the second Saturday in October that will be marked with a gubernatorial proclamation. It will also expand what is taught in the state’s classrooms on the topic of the Civil War and the Civil Rights movement.
“I expected this debate would divide us, but instead during the debate we listened to each other and the conversation brought us together,” Hutchinson said before signing the measure into law. “This is an education bill in which the discussion educated each of us, and we learned that history needs to be viewed not just from our own lens, but through the eyes and experiences of others.”
Both King and Lee have January birthdays and the state has had a holiday honoring Lee since 1947. Arkansas began honoring King in 1983.
Beginning in 1983, state agencies required employees to choose whether they wanted to off on which of the holidays they wanted off: King’s birthday on Jan. 15, Lee’s birthday on Jan. 19 or the employee’s birthday. Two years later, the Legislature voted to combine holidays.
An effort to remove Lee from the holiday was spurred in 2015 by social media posts showing the notices placed on state buildings about the dual holiday, but the legislation repeatedly failed before a House committee.
Hutchinson, a Republican, was a big supporter of the new bill and announced that he would push for ending the dual holiday and included it as part of his legislative package for 2017, the Associated Press reported. Although the bill failed to pass two years ago, a provision on the Civil War and Civil Rights history helped to get it placed before legislative committees that helped guide it along to passage.
Alabama and Mississippi are now the only states that have joint Lee-King state holidays. It’s unclear whether Arkansas‘ move will advance efforts to end the dual holidays in those states.
A proposal is pending in the Alabama Legislature to end the state’s joint holiday in January and move the commemoration of Lee’s birthday to Confederate Memorial Day, which Alabama celebrates as a state holiday in April. The measure has yet to clear a legislative committee.
No bills to end the dual holiday were filed in Mississippi this year.
With reporting by AP.