What the Lee holiday in Arkansas is really about. It isn't good. | Arkansas Blog

What the Lee holiday in Arkansas is really about. It isn't good.

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WHY LEE: The holiday is rooted in Dixiecrats' opposition to desegregation.
  • WHY LEE: The holiday is rooted in Dixiecrats' opposition to desegregation.

Since the Lee-King debate is cranking up again, it's a good time to repeat Ernest Dumas's history lesson on how Arkansas came to observe Robert E. Lee's birthday thanks to legislative action more than 80 years after the end of the Civil War.

It was about States Rights. And the recognition that Jim Crow was under assault, though it would take a couple of decades and assassinations to get the law books right. Dumas' column chronicles powerfully the tides of racial struggle at the time. But to get to the key point:

But the real threat was black voting. In 1944, the U.S. Supreme Court held that Arkansas and other Southern states could no longer prevent blacks from voting in party primaries.

“The Democratic Party in Arkansas,” Gov. Adkins assured alarmed voters, “is a white man’s party” and would remain so. Adkins and the legislature set up two primaries, so that blacks could only vote in one where the president and congressional representatives were nominated but not in the primary where Arkansas offices would be filled. The Supreme Curt would say, in a South Carolina case, that this also was illegal. Besides, the expense of two primaries in 1946 was too much. The registration campaign of the NAACP had raised the number of black voters in Arkansas from 4,000 in 1940 to 47,000 in 1946, a cause for alarm.

So when the legislature convened in January 1947, it capitulated to the courts and budget restraints and repealed Adkins’s double-primary law. Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia were showing other ways to keep blacks from the polls.

If nothing else the legislators and Gov. Laney could take a symbolic step to show the state’s anger over the repeated loss of the state’s right to discriminate. They passed Act 215 giving General Lee a holiday alongside George Washington, the father of our country.

The day the House was considering the Lee holiday bill, the Arkansas Gazette published an editorial that, avoiding mention of Lee, extolled a worthier honoree, Gen. Patrick Cleburne of Helena, a brilliant general who urged the Confederate president to free the slaves and who, on the morning of his death, gave his boots to a shoeless soldier with bloody feet at Franklin, Tenn., and strode barefoot into battle to take the fatal bullet.

See, it was all about Southern heritage.




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