Several of the state’s top politicians – all of whom are white - celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr. Day at the predominately African-American St. Mark Baptist Church in Little Rock. Governor Asa Hutchinson recounted first seeing King on television in his youth and indirectly rebuffed President-elect Trump’s disparagement of a different, still living Civil Rights icon.
Governor Hutchinson, a Republican from the small town of Gravette in northwest Arkansas, recounted how as a junior high school student he first came to learn of King.
“I didn’t understand it all, but I looked in my parents eyes, and I could see in my parents’ eyes the admiration, respect, and really a lack of understanding of what was going through - but they knew it was changing America for the better,” said the 66-year old Hutchinson.
Although Hutchinson would go on to attend and graduate from a segregated Bob Jones University in 1971. The school only dropped its interracial dating ban in 2000.
Hutchinson remarked that among the many faces broadcast to his family’s television set was a young John Lewis. He’s the last living speaker from the March on Washington, the subject of a wildly popular graphic novel series March, and has represented Georgia in the U.S. House since 1987. The President-elect recently tweeted that Lewis is “All talk, talk, talk — no action or results,” in response to Lewis saying Trump is not a legitimate President due to Russian electoral interference.
Hutchinson did not reference the social media fracas but put in a brief, kind word for Lewis describing him as a national hero that achieved results.
“I saw him [King] march with John Lewis, who I later had the opportunity to serve with in the United States Congress. American heroes that made a difference,” said Hutchinson.
The governor didn’t mention it during his remarks but he’s calling on the state legislature to stop the state’s dual celebration of Confederate General Robert E. Lee and King on the same day. Before the legislative session, which began last week, Hutchinson said un-encumbering the King holiday is a priority.
During his speech the governor pointed out that former U.S. Representative Ed Bethune (R-2nd District) was in attendance. Bethune’s tenure spanned from 1979-1985 and included a vote on establishing a federal holiday for King.
“I remember when he was in Congress it was not the most popular thing whenever he supported the national holiday for Dr. King,” said Hutchinson. “So thank you for your leadership.”
No state legislator has yet stepped forward to carry a bill to split the state’s dual observance of Lee and King. Multiple attempts failed to clear committee in 2015. House Speaker Jeremy Gillam (R-Judsonia) is non-committal saying he’s using the holiday weekend to gauge the interests of his constituents in White County.
U.S. Representative French Hill (R-2nd District) and U.S. Senator John Boozman (R-Rogers) were also in attendance at the MLK breakfast at St. Mark.