LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas lawmakers gave final approval Friday to legislation removing Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from the holiday honoring slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.
The state House approved the proposal with a 66-11 vote and sent it to Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who had urged lawmakers to end the dual holiday. Once the bill is signed into law, Mississippi and Alabama will be the only states that honor Lee and King on the same day.
The bill sets aside the second Saturday in October to honor Lee with a memorial day, not a state holiday, marked by a gubernatorial proclamation. It also expands what is taught in schools about the Civil War and civil rights.
Hutchinson, who promised last year to push for ending the dual holiday, made the unusual move of testifying in front of two separate legislative committees this month to speak in support of the proposal. Hutchinson told the panel that King deserved his own day of recognition, and that ending the dual holiday would be a healing moment for the state.
Hutchinson's office said he would likely sign the measure into law on Monday with a ceremony the governor said would emphasize "historic dynamic of this new day."
"The support for a separate holiday to recognize Martin Luther King far exceeded my expectations and speaks well of the General Assembly and our state," Hutchinson said in a statement released by his office.
A similar effort to remove Lee from the King holiday repeatedly failed before a House committee two years ago. Opponents of the measure said the legislation belittled the state's Confederate heritage by not giving Lee his own holiday.
"We are not separating Robert E. Lee and Martin Luther King," Republican Rep. Jana Della Rosa told lawmakers before the vote. "We are taking Robert E. Lee and we are putting him in the basement and we're acting like we're embarrassed that he ever existed."
Both Lee and King were born in January. Arkansas has had a holiday honoring Lee since 1947, and one for King since 1983. That year, state agencies required employees to choose which two holidays they wanted off: King's birthday on Jan. 15, Lee's birthday on Jan. 19 or the employee's birthday. In 1985, the Arkansas Legislature voted to combine the holidays.
Supporters of ending the dual holiday include the state NAACP, along with the city of Little Rock and Pulaski County, which passed resolutions last year endorsing the move.
The 2015 effort to end the dual holiday was fueled in part by photos widely circulated on social media of a sign noting the shared King and Lee day.