- Associated Press - Monday, February 2, 2015

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Members of Arkansas’ Legislative Black Caucus said Monday they’d back another attempt to stop the state from recognizing Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. on the same day.

A House panel rejected the idea last week after opponents said that removing Lee from the January holiday would belittle Southern heritage. The bill’s sponsor met with the 15-member Legislative Black Caucus on Monday to discuss another attempt.

“I want to see a tool of racial division taken away from people on both extremes who want to see those wedges continue,” Rep. Nate Bell, a Mena Republican, told the caucus. He said he hopes to raise his bill again soon.

Arkansas, Alabama and Mississippi are the only states to jointly celebrate King and Lee on the third Monday in January. Bell’s bill would designate Nov. 30 as “Patrick Cleburne-Robert E. Lee Southern Heritage Day.” It would be a state memorial day but not a legal holiday. Cleburne was a Confederate general who lived in east Arkansas.

A photo of a sign noting the King-Lee holiday circulated on social media last month, drawing reactions from across the country.

Bell said a Facebook group is calling for his removal from office because of the bill, but that others are concerned about Arkansas’ reputation and the risk it poses to the state’s economy.

“Perception is everything when it comes to economic development,” Bell said.

Chairwoman Sen. Linda Chesterfield, a Little Rock Democrat, said the caucus members present Monday unanimously supported backing Bell’s proposal. She said they didn’t recommend any changes.

“It’s good for the economic development of the state of Arkansas,” she said. “We do not want to be viewed as a state that’s retrogressive; we want to be viewed as a state that’s progressive.”


Follow Allen Reed on Twitter at www.twitter.com/allen_reed .

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