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Sharing an Arkansas civil rights icon with nation


T he U.S. Capitol is home to many historic artifacts and unique works of art. It is sometimes referred to as a shrine to America, and for good reason – from the architecture to the work that takes place inside, it embodies the story of our country like nothing else could.

One unique way it does so is by serving as a home to sculptures submitted by each state in the National Statuary Hall Collection. The purpose behind this concept is to allow states to “honor persons notable in their history” and expose more of us to their contributions and legacies.

When we think of Arkansas and what story we’d like to tell visitors from around the country and across the world about ourselves and our history, it recently became clear that we needed to write a new chapter. One that reflects progress, emphasizes lessons learned and amplifies our outsized influence on the nation and beyond.

There’s was no better way to make that statement than to submit two new statues, one of which was unveiled earlier this month, of figures that can inspire and excite almost every American.

Daisy Gatson Bates and Johnny Cash, two native Arkansans, quite clearly fit that bill. Bates, a civil rights activist and journalist, rightfully took her place among other giants and icons from across our land in a moving ceremony that represented our state incredibly well. It was a long overdue moment that served as a fitting tribute to her life’s work in pursuit of equality and the dignity of every person.

As the primary mentor and organizer of the first students who integrated Central High School in 1957, Bates etched her name in history by displaying unbelievable courage and grit as she guided those young members of the Little Rock Nine through the harrowing process of desegregating the school in the face of prejudice, hate and even threats of violence.

Helping those brave students overcome the obstacles they encountered for the opportunity to receive the same education as their white peers was a feat that only now can we fully appreciate. It came at great personal risk and required not only fierce determination, but a deep belief in the righteousness of the cause she and others like her were committed to. The episode garnered international attention and spurred further advances in the movement for equal rights for Black Americans.

Her work didn’t stop after the successful integration of Central High, though. She went on to serve on the NAACP’s national board, participated in the March on Washington in 1963 and played a role in President Lyndon Johnson’s administration working on anti-poverty programs.

During the ceremony celebrating the introduction of her statue into the prestigious collection, Bates’ legacy was admired and praised by a host of leaders and others who felt a profound sense of gratitude for what she’d done to fight injustice and make our country better.

There was no better way to cement Daisy Bates’ status as one of the best Arkansas has to offer than this commemoration. As the covering fell and attendees marveled at the intricate, thoughtful details incorporated in the monument, there was unity in the sense of pride and awe it instilled across the room.

Our state is a treasure in so many different respects, but to be the home and training ground for someone so remarkable is a blessing we will always carry. Now, we are equally fortunate to have a new opportunity to share Daisy Bates with a grateful nation and the wider world.

Sen. John Boozman

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