LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (CN) – Arkansas’ governor signed a law Tuesday that gives Martin Luther King Jr. his own holiday, rather than celebrating it on the same day as Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.
The law leaves Martin Luther King Day on the third Monday in January, and moves Robert E. Lee Day to the second Saturday in October.
Both King and Lee were born in January. Lee died on Oct. 12, 1870. King was assassinated on April 4, 1968, in Memphis.
“This is a historic day for our state,” Gov. Asa Hutchinson said after signing the bill. “The legislative support for a separate holiday to recognize Martin Luther King far exceeded my expectations.”
Hutchinson said King “deserves, without question, a day of celebration and reflection unto himself.”
Arkansas has celebrated both men on the same day for 34 years. Efforts to separate the holidays did not get past a legislative panel two years ago. This time around, Hutchinson testified to Senate and House committees to support the legislation.
Arkansas has had a state holiday for Lee since 1947. Martin Luther King Jr. Day became a federal holiday in 1983. The two holidays were combined by state lawmakers in 1985 while Bill Clinton was governor.
The new law, Senate Bill 519, also calls for a statewide policy of teaching material focusing “on the historic work of American civil rights leaders, including without limitation Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and his pursuit of justice in civil society.”
The bill passed with bipartisan support in both chambers, 24-0 in the Senate and 66-11 in the House.
“I believe this legislation will perhaps be the most meaningful piece passed this session,” Hutchinson said.