Activists react to Governor's planned signing of law separting MLK Day and Robert E. Lee Day

Governor Hutchinson to sign bill separating MLK Day and Robert E. Lee Day

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) -- Governor Asa Hutchinson will hold a signing ceremony Monday morning to sign SB519 a law that separates Martin Luther King Day and Robert E. Lee Day in the state of Arkansas.

It came after lawmakers wrestled with the issue over the last two sessions. Now, local civil rights leaders are reacting to that bill. It will be a defining moment for the governor and Arkansans both for and against the new law.

Activists are excited about the decision while hoping this will open doors for other civil rights progress throughout the state. Arkansas' MLK commission chair, Phil Kaplan agrees with the decision by the governor to separate the national holiday recognizing Martin Luther King Jr. and the state holiday for Confederate General Robert E Lee.

"I think it's marvelous, I think all credit belongs to the governor,” Kaplan said.  "I think the bill is important because it contains things other than the separation of the holidays."

The bill requires the state department of education to develop curriculum teaching students about the historical contributions of African Americans, beginning with the 2018 - 2019 school year.

"With that background, it is incredibly important and significant that all of that now becomes a part of the learning process,” Kaplan said.

Civil Rights activist and Fair housing commission co-founder, Annie Abrams is hoping this will open doors for other civil rights matters like HB2053. Abrams said it would dismantle the Arkansas Fair Housing Commission, but for now, she equates the separation of the holiday as something Dr. King dreamed, equality for everyone.

"I respect both of them historically because that's what happened,” Abrams said. "Robert E. Lee became famous because he was fighting for separation of the race to the point that it was a war and the name of that war was the civil war."

She said that by the Governor signing the bill into law it’s sending a message to those in power.

"You can't separate one from the other,” Abrams said. “But you do need to know which comes first."

After the signing ceremony, the celebration of General Lee will move from the third Monday in January to the second Saturday in October.

© 2017 KTHV-TV


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