Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson is expected on Wednesday to endorse a measure that would see the state honor Confederate General Robert E. Lee and civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. on different days rather than jointly, his office said.
Hutchinson, a Republican, has been pushing to separate the joint celebration, in effect since 1985, after critics said it is an insult for King, who fought to end racial segregation, to share a day with a man who fought to preserve slavery.
“He never wavered in his support and commitment to separate the holiday,” said J.R. Davis, Hutchinson’s press secretary. He said the governor would speak about the issue at a news conference later on Wednesday.
Arkansas in the 1940s set up a day in mid-January to honor Lee and created a holiday for King in 1983. Two years after that, it combined the two for a joint day marked on the third Monday in January.
Under proposed legislation to be endorsed by Hutchinson, the state would honor King on the national holiday in January. The second Saturday in October would be designated a “memorial day” for Lee but would not be a state holiday, officials said.
Mississippi and Alabama are the only other states to honor the two men jointly. The anniversaries of their birthdays are only a few days apart in mid-January.
Hutchinson tried to separate the joint day in 2015 but the effort sputtered amid protests from Confederate history enthusiasts and cultural conservatives.
In an attempt to defuse opposition, the bill specifies that Arkansas public schools instruct students in “civilian and military leadership” during the Civil War as well as the civil rights movement.
“Arkansas has got to realize it’s time to separate the two and make that day for Dr. King,” said David Wallace, a Republican state senator and one of two primary sponsors of the bill.
“It’s the right thing to do,” he said in an interview.
It is unclear whether the bill will pass the Republican-controlled legislature even with the backing of Hutchison, who has said separating the King and Lee celebration is a priority, and several key Republican lawmakers who favor doing so.
(Reporting by Steve Barnes; Editing by Jon Herskovitz and Paul Simao)