aka: State Holidays and Commemorative Days
The Arkansas Code sets aside ten days as official holidays, days on which state offices are closed and for which state employees will receive compensation. These are: New Year’s Day (January 1), Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Birthday (third Monday in January), George Washington’s Birthday and Daisy Gatson Bates Day (the third Monday in February), Memorial Day (last Monday in May), Independence Day (July 4), Labor Day (first Monday in September), Veterans Day (November 11), Thanksgiving Day (fourth Thursday in November), Christmas Eve (December 24), and Christmas Day (December 25). In addition, a state employee is granted one holiday to observe his or her birthday.
The holidays are for the most part the same ones observed by the federal government (although Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s and Robert E. Lee’s birthdays were combined into one commemoration until the Arkansas General Assembly, at the urging of Governor Asa Hutchinson, ended the dual holiday in 2017). The holidays include religious festivals that have acquired secular significance, as well as days with historic or patriotic connotations. Various factors have led to birthdays and anniversary legal holidays being observed on dates other than their original ones; the code stipulates that “a holiday falling on a Saturday will be observed on the preceding Friday. A holiday falling on a Sunday will be observed on the succeeding Monday.”
In addition to these eleven paid holidays, the Arkansas Code maintains a separate category for memorial days, to be observed by issuance of a gubernatorial proclamation but not designated as paid legal holidays. The code currently lists eleven such memorial days: General Douglas MacArthur Day (January 26), Silas Hunt Day (February 2), Abraham Lincoln’s Birthday (February 12), Arkansas Teachers’ Day (first Tuesday in March), Arbor Day (third Monday in March), Patriots’ Day (April 19), Arkansas Bird Day (April 26), Good Friday (Friday preceding Easter), Jefferson Davis’s Birthday (June 3), Columbus Day (October 12), and Senator Hattie W. Caraway Day (December 19).
Some of these are traditional and familiar, but others commemorate local figures. Silas Hunt Day honors the first African-American student admitted to the University of Arkansas School of Law, while Senator Hattie W. Caraway Day recalls the nation’s first elected female U.S. senator, and January 26 marks the birth in Little Rock (Pulaski County) in 1880 of Douglas MacArthur. Sectional favorites are included in this category: June 3 honors the president of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis of Mississippi. Patriots’ Day, most identified with the New England region, marks the Revolutionary War battles of Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts.
The Arkansas Code also stipulates that a variety of other days shall be annually observed by gubernatorial proclamation. These include: Firefighter Recognition Day (January 27), Arkansas Agriculture Recognition Day (first Friday in March), Confederate Flag Day (the Saturday immediately preceding Easter), Prisoners of War Remembrance Day (April 9), Hemophilia Awareness Day (first Monday in May), National Garden Week (first full week in June), Juneteenth Independence Day (third Saturday in June), Prisoners of War/Missing In Action Recognition Day (third Friday in September), Native American Heritage Week (third week of September), and White Cane Safety Day (October 15).
In addition to these designated observances, the governor may at his or her discretion issue proclamations honoring days or periods of local or statewide observance. These are generally considered non-legal holidays (that is, not marked by the closure of state offices), but the Arkansas Code § 1-5-103 notes that “Nothing in §§ 1-5-101, 1-5-102, and 1-5-104 shall be construed as prohibiting the Governor from establishing by executive proclamation additional days when state offices shall be closed in observance of special events, or for other reasons at his or her discretion.”
In practice, Arkansas governors generally do not create holidays involving closure of state offices outside of those enumerated in Arkansas Code § 1-5-101, with the exception of customary closures on the day after Thanksgiving. On the other hand, commemorative days, weeks, and months are generously designated. In 1985, Governor Bill Clinton issued proclamations designating nearly 300 commemorative, memorial, or tribute days, weeks, and months, plus three ceremonial designations of the year. These included proclamations acknowledging national initiatives such as Black History Month, National Catfish Month, Parkinson’s Awareness Month, and Eagle Awareness Week, as well as locally specific ones including Arkansas Home Birth Day, Arkansas Heritage Week, Private Property Week and Respect for the Law Week (issued on the same day), and Andrew Beavers Day.
In 1996, the governor’s office issued an almost equal number, including 100 designated days (including proclamations for legal holidays), 121 weeks, sixty-five days, and four “year of” designations. Many of these repeated those issued a decade previously, while others acknowledged new advocacy organizations and movements desiring official notice of their concerns, such as proclamations of Benign Essential Blepharospasm Awareness Week, Breastfeeding Month, and Republic of China on Taiwan Day, which joined days of special recognition for local notables such as Little Rock radio personality Bob Robbins and Little Rock socialite, philanthropist, and onetime state legislator Willie Oates, and such national perennials as Flag Day.
For additional information:
A.C.A. § 1-5-102 (2011), Title 1, General Provisions; Chapter 5, Holidays and Observances, 1-5-101 through 1-5-116, inclusive.
Gubernatorial Proclamations, Executive Orders and Emergency Orders. Arkansas Secretary of State’s Office, Little Rock, Arkansas.
Arkansas Secretary of State’s Office
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