Governor Addresses Arkansas Black History Heroes

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February is Black History Month, and today I would like to honor some of the Arkansans who have made a real difference to our state and our nation.

Over 160 Arkansans have been inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame. Many of them are historical figures who contributed to the early growth and governance of Arkansas. Many others are still in the news. They have represented Arkansas in journalism, publishing, and entertainment; law; Politics; Agriculture; Restaurants; nuclear science; computing; the military; and collegiate and professional sports.

The most recent Hall of Famers to make national news are Annie Abrams and Fatima Robinson. Annie Abrams was in her twenties during the Central High desegregation crisis in 1957 and was one of many people who knew the students known as Little Rock 9. On the first day of Black History Month this year , a team from Good Morning America aired an interview with Miss Annie from her home in Little Rock. She was a friend of LC and Daisy Bates, a living connection to this transformative era in our history. At 90, Miss Annie still writes (often via email) and otherwise communicates her views to state leaders.

On Sunday, millions around the world watched the work of Little Rock native Fatima Robinson, who choreographed the Super Bowl LVI halftime show. She also choreographed the Super Bowl halftime show in 2011.

Raye Jean Jordan Montague, who died in 2018, was a US Navy engineer who produced the first computer-generated draft for building a navy ship.

Estella and Knoxie Hall were entrepreneurs who persevered despite setbacks rooted in the racial attitudes of the time. In the 1970s, they transformed a gas station into a produce market, which grew to include a small restaurant. Their three sons still run K. Halls Produce at 1900 Wright Avenue.

When Lottie Shackelford ran for a seat on the Little Rock board of directors, she became the first black candidate to win a majority in a citywide race. She was re-elected twice, and in 1987 the council elected her as Little Rock’s first female mayor.

Scipion Jones is one of Arkansas’ best-known historical figures. Scipio was born into slavery in 1863, and after gaining his freedom, he began his college career at Philander Smith College. He passed the Arkansas bar exam in 1889. Mr. Jones is best known for his defense of twelve black men who were sentenced to death in connection with the Elaine Race massacre. He ignored threats to represent the men on appeal. The United States Supreme Court overturned the death sentences. This victory produced a landmark decision that set a precedent for the use of writs of habeas corpus. Scipion Jones risked his life to seek justice for his clients.

Here is a short list whose courage, creativity and tenacity have enriched our state. Black History Month is an appropriate time to remember them, but let’s not limit our honor to them to just a few days each year.

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