Black History Month Spotlight – Arkansas State Capitol

Arkansas birthdayThe new Arkansas Civil Rights History Audio Tour was launched in November 2015. Produced by the City of Little Rock and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock allows the many places and stories of the City’s Civil Rights history to come to life an interactive tour.  This month, during Black History Month, the Culture Vulture looks at some of the stops on this tour which focus on African American history.

The Arkansas state capitol has been the site of a number of civil rights events over the years. In 1964, Ozell Sutton, a local African American leader, was denied service at the capitol’s basement cafeteria because of his race. The cafeteria then reincorporated as a private members-only club to avoid integration. A number of conflicts occurred when local black students from Philander Smith College and an interracial group of Arkansas Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee members tried, on several occasions, to desegregate the cafeteria. In 1965, the courts finally ordered the cafeteria to open its doors to blacks and whites on an equal basis.

In 1968, after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., Arkansas governor Winthrop Rockefeller held a memorial service on the capitol steps for the slain civil rights leader—the only southern governor to make such a gesture of reconciliation. His actions are credited with limiting the impact of the violence that rocked other cities in the wake of the King assassination. In 2005, John and Cathy Deering’s “Testament” bronze sculpture of the Little Rock Nine was dedicated on the north side of the building. It was the first civil rights monument erected on the grounds of a southern state capitol.

The app, funded by a generous grant from the Arkansas Humanities Council, was a collaboration among UALR’s Institute on Race and Ethnicity, the City of Little Rock, the Mayor’s Tourism Commission, and KUAR, UALR’s public radio station, with assistance from the Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau.