LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas legislators on Wednesday rejected a proposal to change the meaning of one of the stars on the state flag from honoring the Confederacy to honoring the contributions Native Americans have made to the state.
The majority-Republican House State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee defeated the measure, which wouldn’t have changed the flag’s design but would have changed the legal meaning of the blue star above Arkansas’ name on the flag. Instead of commemorating the Confederate States of America, it would have honored the Native American tribes that inhabited the state, including the Quapaw, Osage and Caddo.
Arkansas has four blue stars on its flag and the one honoring the Confederacy was added in 1923. In 1924, lawmakers changed the design so that star was the only one above the state’s name.
Democratic state Rep. Charles Blake, who proposed removing the Confederate link, said the star was added at the height of the Ku Klux Klan’s rise in Arkansas and elsewhere.
“One could argue the star was not added to honor the Confederate States of America. The star, in context of the time of 1924 and that period, was added to add presence and prominence of white supremacy in the state of Arkansas,” Blake, who is black, told the panel. “It’s an ugly history, but we have to be honest about our history.”
The other three blue stars represent the three countries that have had dominion over what is now the state of Arkansas: France, Spain and the United States.
Critics likened Blake’s proposal to efforts to remove Confederate monuments and emblems from public view.
“I believe revisionist organizations are trying very hard to eliminate everything that has to do with the Confederacy throughout the entire United States right now. … I believe this is part of that,” said Alexander C. Wilson III, the state commander of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, which has fought efforts to remove Confederate monuments.
The flag bill follows widespread debate about Confederate symbols throughout the South, particularly since a white supremacist’s killing of nine black worshippers at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015 and violence in August 2017 at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Efforts to remove the Confederate battle emblem from Mississippi’s flag died in the Legislature this year.
It also comes two years after Arkansas enacted a law removing Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from the state holiday honoring civil rights icon the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Unlike that change, Blake’s proposal doesn’t have the backing of Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson.
Blake, who is also the minority leader in the majority-Republican House, said he hasn’t ruled out trying again with the proposal.