LITTLE ROCK — The Arkansas Democratic Party on Wednesday renamed its annual fundraising dinner in honor of its favorite political son, former President Bill Clinton, nearly a year after dropping Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson’s names from the event over the late presidents’ slave ownership.
The party announced the newly named Clinton Dinner will be held in Little Rock on July 22, with Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards headlining the event. Clinton, who served 12 years as Arkansas governor, was the speaker at the final Jefferson-Jackson Dinner the party held last year.
“It’s just kind of a no brainer when you think about it,” State Democratic Party Chairman Michael John Gray said. “We’ve had some great leaders in the party, some great senators, representatives, justices of the peace, but we’ve only had one president.”
The party announced it would drop the Jefferson and Jackson names from the dinner after several states, including Georgia, Missouri and Connecticut made similar moves. The parties’ efforts to distance themselves from the two presidents were part of a wider re-evaluation of names and symbols linked to slavery and the Confederacy that followed the 2015 shooting deaths of nine black churchgoers by a white gunman in South Carolina. That attack prompted South Carolina lawmakers to move the Confederate battle flag off the statehouse grounds.
Jefferson and Jackson are considered founders of the Democratic Party, but their ownership of slaves has drawn increased scrutiny in recent years. Jackson also signed the Indian Removal Act that led to the forced removal of Native Americans from their lands in what became known as the Trail of Tears.
The Clinton Dinner named was unveiled months after Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed into law legislation ending the state’s practice of commemorating Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee on the state holiday for slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. Hutchinson, a Republican, had urged lawmakers to give King the holiday to himself.
Clinton’s name abounds in Arkansas, which has shifted sharply to the right since the former president served as governor. Clinton’s presidential library is located in Little Rock, along with a national airport named after the former president and his wife, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
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