Un­likely ‘he­roes’ di­vided Lee/MLK hol­i­days for state

The Weekly Vista - - Opinion - May­lon Rice is a for­mer jour­nal­ist who worked for sev­eral north­west Arkansas pub­li­ca­tions. He can be reached via email at may­lon­trice@ya­hoo.com. The opin­ions ex­pressed are those of the au­thor.

Fi­nally, in the emo­tional, gut-wrench­ing de­bate over sep­a­rat­ing the hol­i­days Dr. Martin Luther King and CSA Gen­eral Robert E. Lee, a true states­man has emerged.

And that states­man was one state Rep. Ge­orge Billy McGill, D-Fort Smith.

McGill, af­ter some emo­tional pros and cons for the mea­sure, calmly stepped down to the well of the House and led the Arkansas House in a his­toric and cli­matic speech straight from his heart and closed for­ever the is­sue of this once com­bined hol­i­day.

McGill is known as a “back bencher,” one of those men in the Leg­is­la­ture who qui­etly sit on the rear rows of the cham­ber and keep out of the backand-forth of those mem­bers who like to stroll down front and com­ment on bill af­ter bill af­ter bill.

He rarely, if ever, ac­cord­ing to his col­leagues, goes to the well.

I, for one, am glad he made the in­fre­quent stroll to the front of the cham­ber last week.

And watch­ing the de­bate on live stream­ing from a com­puter was well worth the time spent and the his­tor­i­cal ram­i­fi­ca­tions his speech made.

Repub­li­can State Rep. Char­lene Fite, R-Van Buren, who rep­re­sents western Washington and Craw­ford coun­ties, said only good things about McGill, when asked.

“Ge­orge McGill doesn’t go to the well of the House very of­ten, but when he does, we lis­ten. Rep. McGill is soft spo­ken, well man­nered, and un­fail­ingly kind. He treats every­one with dig­nity and re­spect. He’s a true gen­tle­man who is known for his in­tegrity. I’m proud to serve with him.”

McGill talked about “set­ting aside the painful emo­tions (of this bill) for a mo­ment,” as he set­tled down be­hind the podium. In front of his 99 other col­leagues, he firmly took the is­sue and steered the cham­ber’s at­ten­tion to­wards a so­lu­tion.

He be­gan by cor­rectly thank­ing the Speaker for the op­por­tu­nity to speak.

McGill told a few light­hearted trib­utes of hu­mor on him­self and lauded praise upon oth­ers in the cham­ber. But then, in a true states­man-like-man­ner, he got down to busi­ness.

He be­gan an in­trigu­ing tale of his great-great­great-grand­fa­ther, a Ge­orge McGill, who left the servi­tude of slav­ery in Mis­sis­sippi to fight for the Union Army in the wan­ing day of the Civil War.

McGill said he has of­ten thought about his an­ces­tor, but leg­is­la­tor McGill “does not know the an­ces­tor’s his­tory and thusly does not share the pain” of his­tory in the 1860s.

He then told of some per­sonal re­flec­tions, fast-for­ward­ing to a youth­ful Ge­orge B. McGill of Fort Smith, who was a stu­dent at the Univer­sity of Arkansas, when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and this na­tion was in racial tur­moil. That pain he knows and knows well.

In a light­hearted mo­ment, McGill praised his for­mer hair style: “I had an big Afro, I mean a big one, and it was good look­ing,” he said to po­lite laugh­ter around the Cham­ber.

“Oh, I wore the dashikis and I gave the (raised clenched fist) the Power sign,” McGill said.

But he does not tell the tales of be­ing mis­treated at the UA to his grand­son. “It’s just too painful. I don’t carry that hate and lug­gage around to­day.”

McGill said he has jet­ti­soned that hurt and pain and to­day the “UA cam­pus is one of my fa­vorite places to visit.”

He closed by say­ing the split­ting of the hol­i­days would give ed­u­ca­tors an op­por­tu­nity, a frame work, to ed­u­cate fu­ture gen­er­a­tions on what went on – good and bad – dur­ing th­ese his­toric events.

“What we are do­ing is cre­at­ing some space to ed­u­cate our chil­dren,” McGill said.

He praised Gov. Hutchinson for his sup­port of the bill and for young state Rep. Grant Hodges (R-Rogers) who cham­pi­oned the bill in his first ses­sion in the House.

As McGill urged mem­bers to vote for the bill, he quickly left the well, headed for his back-bench seat. No one else spoke. A true states­man had spo­ken. The bill passed.

• • •


Po­lit­i­cally Lo­cal

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