Capitol Display honors Black History Month

Capitol Display honors Black History Month

Next Generations: Arkansas’s African American Legislators since 1973

LITTLE ROCK — Between 1868 and 1893, significant numbers of African Americans served in the chambers of the Arkansas Legislature. Black legislators remained visible and active in both chambers through the 1870s and 1880s but political and social tides turned against them. From 1893, no African American would serve in the Arkansas legislature for eight decades.

The year 1973 saw a new day in Arkansas politics: Richard Mays, Dr. William Townsend and Henry Wilkins III began their careers in the Arkansas House, while Dr. Jerry Jewell entered the State Senate. Since 1973, another sixty-two have taken their places in the Capitol, with some serving in as many as eleven or, in one case, twelve Legislatures, representing both metropolitan and rural districts. Today, African Americans make up about eleven percent of Arkansas’s legislature: three state senators and eleven state representatives.

This February, the Arkansas State Capitol salutes the ”Class of ‘73” and those who followed it with a new display, The Next Generations: Arkansas’s African American Legislators since 1973. The exhibit collects the legislative portraits and service statistics of the sixtysix African American legislators of the Twentieth and Twenty-first centuries. Portraits are drawn from the legislative composite pictures usually viewed on the Capitol’s third and fourth floors, while their years of service derive from information in the Historical Report of the Secretary of State. These legislators’ histories and accomplishments cannot be contained in a single exhibit but their names and their service are worth commemorating: not content to simply honor history, through their service they have made it.

The Next Generations will remain on view in the Capitol’s ground floor Rotunda through the month of February.

From Chris Powell