For the first time in over three decades, the next Martin Luther King Day celebration in Arkansas will be one dedicated solely to the life and work of the civil rights icon, and won't be forced to share calendar space with a commemoration of notorious Confederate general Robert E. Lee.
But don't worry, Robert E. Lee fans: your favorite defender of slavery won't be getting dumped completely.
On Tuesday, Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson signed a measure that will split the two commemorative holidays, which have both occurred on King's birthday of January 15th (Lee was born four days later) since the state combined them in 1985 under then-Governor Bill Clinton. Arkansas will now celebrate King on the third Monday of January, while Lee will be acknowledged by gubernatorial proclamation on the second Saturday in October, the Charlotte Observer reported.
The bill had been sponsored by Republican lawmakers Sen. David Wallace and state Rep. Grant Hodges, passing through the state House by a vote of 66-11 on March 17. At the time, Gov. Hutchinson, also a Republican, voiced his enthusiastic support of the measure, calling it a "priority."
In a statement released on Tuesday, Hutchinson called the bill signing a "historic day for our state," and praised his colleagues and constituents for passing the measure.
"The legislative support for a separate holiday to recognize Martin Luther King far exceeded my expectations." Hutchinson said. "To be frank, I expected a debate that would divide. Instead, we listened to each other, and the conversation brought us together. We learned that history needs to be viewed—not just from our own lens—but through the eyes and experiences of others."
At one point, as many as five states—Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina—combined the two days, with Virginia celebrating MLK, Robert E. Lee and fellow confederate Stonewall Jackson all at once. According to National Public Radio, Hutchinson's signature leaves just Mississippi and Alabama as the only states left which celebrate King and Lee on the same day.