Arkansas governor seeks to split Martin Luther King/Robert E. Lee birthday celebrations

As millions observe a federal holiday remembering the life and legacy of  civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr., in three Southern states, someone else is being remembered with birthday wishes Monday – Confederate General Robert E.  Lee.

With the exception of a few celebrations that mark the birth of the Civil  War general, notice is rarely taken of Lee’s birthday outside of the South, and within Dixie’s borders, even that recognition has dwindled to (officially) only three states.

While Alabama and Mississippi recognize the birthdays of Lee and  King on the same day, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson says for his state it’s time to separate the celebrations for the two.

“They need to be distinguished and separate,” Hutchinson said in a news conference earlier this month.

According to a story from The Guardian, in the 1940s, Arkansas chose a day in  mid-January to honor Lee's birthday and his  service to the South as the commander of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia.

In 1983, the state also began to observe the newly-passed bill that called for a federal holiday in January to honor King’s birthday. In 1985, the state combined the holidays and celebrated them both on the third Monday in January.

Despite Hutchinson’s support, last year the Arkansas legislature voted down a bill that  would have moved Lee’s celebration to November. King and Lee’s birthdays are four days apart in January, but the date in November was chosen  as a type of “Confederate Veteran’s Day” celebration that would include honoring Lee.

With the exception of Alabama, Mississippi and Arkansas, the other Southern states have dropped the reference to Lee’s January birthday on official state holiday calendars.

Last year in Georgia, legislators renamed a January holiday from “Robert E. Lee’s Birthday” to “State Holiday” on the official calendar of state holidays. The “State Holiday” formally known as Robert E. Lee’s Birthday, falls on the same day as the “Martin Luther King, Jr’s Birthday” holiday.

The legislature likewise renamed an April state holiday from "Confederate Memorial Day" to "State Holiday." Officials there say people who wish to celebrate it as Confederate Memorial Day are welcomed to do so.

Support has grown for dropping references to anything connected to the Confederacy – including removing the Confederate flag from government property -- following the shootings at a church in Charleston, S.C. The gunman in that shooting was seen posing with his guns and a Confederate flag.

ExploreRead the full story at The Guardian.