Arkansas civil rights icon Daisy Bates commemorated with Capitol statue

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By Stacy M. Brown

NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent

The recent unveiling of a statue honoring civil rights activist and journalist Daisy Bates in the National Statuary Hall brought out a bipartisan mix of individuals who praised the icon and the newest fixture at the U.S. Capitol.

Arkansas Republican Congressman Bruce Westerman reflected on Bates’s early life challenges, while the man who created the statue praised her courage. Democratic members of Congress also chimed in, noting the historic installation and acknowledgment of Bates’ activism.

“Considering the current climate that we’re in as it relates to politics and race, it’s important that we remind people of our history,” Texas Democratic Rep. Jasmine Crockett asserted. I think we need to consistently remind people of our history and what really matters. And hopefully, we can find it in our hearts to recognize the future historians doing their part to better this country.”

Westerman offered a rather poetic take on Bates’ historical life in which her biological mother’s death wounded her emotionally and forced Bates to confront racism at an early age.

“Imagine, as an eight-year-old girl, you learn that years before, your mother had been raped, murdered, and dumped in a pond. That was young Daisy Gatson Bates’ story in the small town of Huttig, Arkansas, not far from the Louisiana line,” he said.

“On top of that, imagine you learn the white men who did this to your Black mother were never brought to justice – never held accountable. How would you feel? Fifty-four years later, in an interview, she said, ‘I was so tight inside; there was so much hate. And I think it started then without me knowing it. It prepared me; it gave me the strength to carry this out.’ Fortunately, Daisy Bates took the advice of her dying adopted father and channeled her anger and hate into a lifelong motivation to make a difference, to seek justice in a world where there was injustice.”

Westerman then emphasized Bates’s courage in the face of adversity. “Courage does not mean an absence of fear,” he remarked. “But true courage, the example of courage Daisy Bates gave us all, is to face our fear, to overcome it, and to do the right thing.”

Ben Victor, the statue’s sculptor, also shared his perspective on Bates. “Her courage really stands out to me,” Victor said. “I’ve depicted her in motion because she was a woman with a cause. She is smiling, showing her optimism in the face of great adversity.”

In 1954, the Supreme Court ruled segregated schools unconstitutional. According to her bio, Bates began gathering African American students to enroll at all-white schools after the ruling. Often, the white schools refused to let Black students attend. Bates used her newspaper to publicize the schools that did follow the federal mandate. Despite the continuous rejection from many Arkansas public schools, she pushed forward. When the National NAACP office started to focus on Arkansas’ schools, they looked to Bates to plan the strategy, her bio noted. She took the reins and organized the Little Rock Nine. She selected nine students to integrate Central High School in Little Rock in 1957, whom she regularly drove to school and worked tirelessly to protect them from violent crowds. Bates also advised the group and even joined the school’s parent organization.

Because of her prominent role in integration, Bates was often a target for intimidation, with rocks thrown at her home, bullet shells sent to her mailbox, and repeated threats that forced her family to shut down their newspaper.

Bates, who died in 1999 at age 84, played a crucial role in desegregating Arkansas public schools in the 1950s. Along with her husband, she published an Arkansas newspaper dedicated to the civil rights cause and served as the president of the state’s NAACP chapter. “Every high school, every middle school, every elementary school, every college in this country is the pattern of America today because of Daisy Gaston Bates,” remarked Charles King, President of the Daisy Bates House Museum Foundation, during the unveiling ceremony.

King asserted that Bates’ statue represents unity.

“The song of America was not the tune for Daisy Bates,” King said. “I have to believe the Almighty had a bigger and better song for Daisy … it appears that the America that Daisy sang and the America that America sang were two different songs, until today.”

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Arkansas civil rights icon Daisy Bates commemorated with Capitol statue

By Jackson Advocate News Service
June 25, 2024