Governor Asa Hutchinson briefly chimed in on the subject of Confederate iconography in the hours preceding the governor of South Carolina’s call on Monday for the removal of the Confederate battle flag from its statehouse grounds.
Hutchinson said the flag does not have a place in contemporary politics but did not say it should be removed from South Carolina’s statehouse either.
The controversy over the place of the Confederacy in modern Southern politics and culture re-emerged in popular attention after a racially-motivated shooting killed 9 members of the historic Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C. last week.
Speaking to reporters after an event at the state Capitol, Governor Hutchinson was asked about the appropriateness of Confederate symbolism in Arkansas’s flag. It is one of seven state flags that reference the Confederacy.
Hutchinson did not comment specifically on the relationship between Arkansas’s flag and Confederate commemoration but he said the Confederate battle flag is a symbol that should remain in the past.
“It should not be utilized as a symbol for current events. It is history. Obviously, we understand that history more deeply in the South than anywhere else. I think what we’ve got to concentrate on is not the politics of those decisions now,” said Hutchinson.
The Republican governor did not opine as to whether the history associated with the rise of secessionist governments holds an honorable or dishonorable place in the pantheon of America's accomplishments. Instead, the governor called attention to a service he participated in at Bethel AME Church in North Little Rock on Sunday. He said the assembled in Arkansas reflected a resiliency and faith that should be emulated.
“I think we’ve learned a lot from how South Carolina has handled it in terms of forgiveness, in terms of unity, in terms of working together,” Hutchinson said.
Former governor, and president, Bill Clinton signed a state law in 1987 re-establishing that one of the four blue stars on Arkansas’s flag “is to commemorate the Confederate States of America.” The star in question is the only one located above the word “ARKANSAS” on the flag. The flag's design also resembles the stars and bars pattern from the Confederate battle flag, reconfigured in the shape of a diamond – the state’s official gem.
While the Confederate battle flag does not fly on Arkansas’s Capitol grounds several monuments do give reverence to the 19th century secessionist government. There are no similar monuments honoring the struggle of black people during the Civil War or in antebellum Arkansas.
Arkansas also observes a Confederate Flag Day in addition to several other occasions that venerate the Confederate State of America and its participants. Most recently, several attempts in the 2015 regular session of the Arkansas Legislature failed to de-couple the state's dual observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Robert E. Lee Day.