The Arkansas House voted Thursday (April 15) to eliminate a relic in state culture from the segregation era. HB 1916 would eliminate “Confederate Flag Day” and replace it with “Arkansas Day.” The bill passed on an 80-7 vote, with one member voting present
The bill now goes to the state Senate for consideration.
Bill sponsor Rep. Austin McCollum, R-Bentonville, said his intention in presenting the bill was not to erase any part of the state’s history. Critics have argued that it’s another example of “cancel culture,” but McCollum said that’s not the case.
Former Arkansas Gov. Orville Faubus and other lawmakers created Confederate Flag Day in response to the Little Rock Nine crisis that rocked Central High School in Little Rock during the fall of 1957. A year later, the day was designated for the Saturday before Easter each year.
Justin Gonzales, R-Okolona, said he didn’t support the bill when he was first approached. When he learned about the origins of Confederate Flag Day, he changed his mind.
“It was blatant racism at the time,” he said. “We don’t need that black eye of racism.”
Jamie Scott, D-North Little Rock, agreed with Gonzales. She said she’s a student of history and doesn’t want any of it, good or bad, removed. Many people in the state are unaware of Confederate Flag Day, Scott said, and removing it won’t stop people from flying the Confederate States’ war banner.
“It won’t stop the celebrating and glorification of a symbol that stood against the U.S.,” she said.
David Whitaker, D-Fayetteville, said arguments that the bill will eliminate some of the state’s history are shortsighted. The bill will allow for the state to put several historical events into a better context.
During his floor speech, he noted that many confederate soldiers are honored throughout the state in the same manner as other veterans who’ve fought in a war. He added that people will still have the option to honor those soldiers anytime they choose to do so.
“We cannot undo all of the darkness of the past … we can have a new beginning,” he said.