Opinion

The U.S. Capitol Building is an internationally-recognized symbol of our country. Its simple silhouette, and the statues housed within, represent the political texture of our nation. As a young girl, visiting the Capitol was a dream of mine. My rural town in Arkansas had nothing as grandiose as the building that represents law making and progress in our country.

When I actually went there, I was in awe of the place where both the Civil Rights Act and the New Deal had been passed. More than anything, when I heard of Statuary Hall, the portion of the Capitol that houses two statues of influential figures from each state, I was thrilled that a little piece of my home state stood on display in this famous building.

Seeing Helen Keller from Alabama and Dwight D. Eisenhower from Kansas had me anxiously questioning our tour guide about who the statues from Arkansas were, but he couldn’t recall. I figured that he probably didn’t get a lot of visitors from down South and continued to wonder what amazing Arkansan was awaiting me. When we finally got to see them, I had no clue who they were, and this is one of the two reasons that Arkansas’ statues should be revised to better represent Arkansas.

The second reason is because of the people denoted by the statues, as well as the lives they led. After extensive research, I finally had a slight clue about who the people representing us in the Capitol were, and the answer was disappointing. It is incredibly hard to believe statues of Uriah Milton Rose and James P. Clarke are the best Arkansas can do. Let me explain why.

James P. Clarke was the eighteenth governor of Arkansas, as well as a state and U.S. senator during the late 19th century and early 20th century. He regulated the railroads and supported the direct election of senators. That would be a great resume, except he was also known for having a temper and spitting in a Senator’s face after a disagreement. This formerly esteemed figure is also quoted as saying, “The people of the South looked to the Democratic party to preserve the white standards of civilization.”

Even considering the ideological switch between the two major political parties since Clarke’s time, that quote has not aged well. In addition, Arkansans should not allow the statue of someone who advocated for white supremacy to represent our whole state and everything we have accomplished in the years since Clarke’s time. Even Clarke’s own great-great-grandson and former State Representative Clarke Tucker wants the statue replaced. That should say a lot.

Uriah M. Rose was a president and founder of the U.S. bar association and was appointed by former President Theodore Roosevelt to be an ambassador to the Second Hague Peace Conference. That’s impressive, but he also stood with Arkansas when they seceded from the Union to uphold their tradition of slavery.

There was little substantial legislation to change the figures in Statuary Hall until the filing of Senate Bill 75 on Feb. 18. This bill proposes two replacement figures, and it has already passed unanimously through the Senate. After all, two of Arkansas’ most well-known alumni, Daisy Gatson Bates and Johnny Cash, are much better-suited for the job.

Daisy Gatson Bates was the president of the Arkansas NAACP and mentored the Little Rock Nine. She documented the battle of African Americans as they fought to end segregation in her newspaper and was chosen as the 1957 Woman of the Year in Education by the Associated Press. Who could be better to replace an old racist than an incredible black woman?

Johnny Cash, aside from being a well-known musician, was a veteran and an advocate for native Americans and those in poverty. "A lot of people think of country singers as right-wing, redneck bigots. I don't think I'm like that,” he said. The Klux Klan also openly hated him because his first wife was a black woman.

There are a number of Arkansans that would be fitting to replace the men in statuary hall, and this progress made by the state legislature puts our state on the precipice of doing something that will affect Arkansas’ legacy for years to come.

Arkansas is known for being close to the bottom of the list when it comes to states’ education, healthcare and ability to prevent teenage pregnancy. Harrison, Arkansas is even home to a faction of the KKK. As Arkansans work to get our state on the track to progress, let’s avoid adding another detrimental element to our legacy by actively correcting this injustice. Installing two new statues is the least our state agencies can do to indicate that Arkansas has changed.

Arkansas legislators have an opportunity to say that our future leaders look a lot more like Daisy Gatson Bates and Johnny Cash than the segregationists who upheld white supremacy, and I think we should all be singing, shouting and rejoicing at this opportunity.

 

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