Little Rock Culture Vulture

Cultural events, places and people in the Little Rock area


Black History Month Spotlight – TESTAMENT sculpture on State Capitol grounds

Testament 006The 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.

In 1957, nine African-American students enrolled at Little Rock’s Central High School, beginning the process of desegregating Little Rock’s public schools and marking a seminal event in America’s civil rights movement. This sculptural grouping was dedicated in August 2005 to honor the courage of those students, known collectively as the Little Rock Nine. Quotations from each of the Nine are featured around the bronze figures, which are the work of artists John and Cathy Deering.

The site for the statues was selected to face the end of the building which contains the Arkansas Governor’s Office.  It was from those windows that then-Governor Orval Faubus would have looked as he was making decisions to deny the Little Rock Nine entry into Little Rock Central. It is out those windows now that any governor since 2005 looks to see the statues.

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.

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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.


Sculpture Vulture: TESTAMENT

Today’s highlighted sculpture sits on the grounds of the Arkansas State Capitol.  Testament honors the Little Rock Nine who integrated Little Rock Central High School in 1957.

The statues face the Arkansas State Capitol including the Governor’s Office. The irony is that, in 1957, then-Governor Orval Faubus led the efforts to keep Minnijean Brown, Elizabeth Eckford, Ernest Green, Thelma Mothershed, Melba Patillo, Gloria Ray, Terrence Roberts, Jefferson Thomas, and Carlotta Walls from entering the school.

Dedicated in August 2005, Testament was created by John Deering working with Kathy Deering and Steve Scallion.  The project was over seven years in the making from the original concept to the  unveiling.

The bronze sculptures are life-size and depict the students moving forward.  They are dressed in school clothes and carry their books.  Around the perimeter of the sculpture is a series of quotes, one from each of the nine.

(It is appropriate to discuss this sculpture today, since the Oscars are presented tonight (2/26/12). The 1964 Oscar for Best Documentary — Short Subject was awarded for the film Nine from Little Rock.)