A bill filed in the legislature Wednesday seeks to end Arkansas’s official observance of Robert E. Lee’s birthday, which falls on the same date as Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Republican Nate Bell, typically aligned with the conservative side of his party, filed the legislation removing the Confederate general’s birthday from the list of state holidays.
However, Bell said he does not personally think it is inappropriate to celebrate Confederates and civil rights leaders side by side.
“It’s more of an issue of practicality. Clearly a lot of people like to put racial overtones into that situation and I think it’s just better that we eliminate the way people see that,” said Bell.
Despite proposing to remove state recognition for Lee, Bell didn’t say the Virginian should be regarded as anything other than a positive figure in American history.
“I certainly respect General Lee but we’ve had a number of military generals over the years you know, General Patton, General McArthur and they don’t have national holidays. I just think it’s time that we align more closely with the rest of the country on that,” said Bell.
Bell said if there is an effort in the legislature to celebrate Lee on a different day – other than the King holiday – he won’t be the lawmaker leading the charge, “you know, you’re talking to Mr. limited government here and I’m not going to go create a new holiday."
The bill could be taken up as early as next week by the committee on State Agencies, which Bell chairs. Representative Fred Love, a Democrat, filed a similar bill on Wednesday as well. Love has said he does think it’s inappropriate to honor a symbol of the Confederacy alongside a celebration of the civil rights movement.
Speaking to reports on Tuesday Governor Asa Hutchinson reserved giving his opinion on ending Robert E. Lee Day, "I'd have to give that some more thought but history is important to me, we've just got to balance those obviously. Yesterday (Monday) I was at a Martin Luther King celebration, the official recognition of that holiday that was very important to me, in Benton. I haven't looked at that legislation, I'll have to give it some thought."