Home Editorials Daisy Bates left her mark on others

Daisy Bates left her mark on others

by Dr. E. Faye Williams
Dr. E. Faye Williams

<TriceEdneyWire.com> — We have not had a lot in the news lately about which we could cheer, but we’re blessed that occasionally there’s something we can call positive. May 8, 2024, was such a day. A memorial to Daisy Bates was celebrated in the U.S. Capitol. It was a long time coming, but it finally happened.

The strangest thing about the program was that it involved people whose fore parents were totally opposed to the work Ms. Bates did when she became a leader and key supporter of the nine students who integrated Little Rock Central High School in the school year 1957-58—that included the current governor and congressman from Arkansas.

Benjamin Victor, the artist who did the sculptor, did a masterful job on the full body bronze statue of Ms. Bates. The statue is located in Statuary Hall in the United States Capitol. Ms. Bates and her husband, L.C., were publishers of the Arkansas State Press. They were leaders in their community. They had the courage to use their newspaper to focus on the African American community and their civil rights.

While her husband worked for the NAACP and she served on its Board, she took a public role in voter registration, anti-poverty programs. Once Brown v. Board of Education became law, she took on the role of integrating Central High School—a dangerous undertaking to say the least.

Recently I met three women who lived in Arkansas at the time, and pretty much had a front row place in what was happening. I spoke with Sarah Davidson, Bernice Bass Abner and Janice Kearney who knew a lot about Ms. Bates, and their lives were impacted by the work of Ms. Bates.

I was still in high school at the time I learned about the leadership of Ms. Bates in working to implement the law on Black and White children attending school together. I learned about Arkansas Gov. Orval Faubus who was determined to stand in the way of that happening. I remember hearing about the Little Rock 9, and later met some of them. These were the students chosen to go into Central High School and make it their high school, too.

Recently, I learned that Ms. Bernice Bass Abner is the daughter of Rev. William Harry Bass who was called on to accompany the Little Rock 9 children on the first day of school at the segregated Central High School. Of course, the students were not welcomed and did not get into Central High that day.

I met Janice Kearney who is the author of a book about the situation. She’s a former personal diarist to President Bill Clinton and a former publisher who revived the Arkansas Weekly Press founded by L.C. and Daisy Bates. Their paper once had a nationwide readership of thousands. She also published a creative non-fiction book on the life of civil rights legend Daisy Bates. It’s called A Rock and A Hard Place.

Ms. Sarah Davidson grew up in Arkansas and knows a lot about Ms. Bates’ work to integrate the schools. She was a civil rights advocate and social justice fighter at an early age. Her contributions became a catalyst that would change the course of history in her hometown. She was mentored by Ms. Bates, established the North Little Rocks’ first NAACP Youth Council and served as its first president. She was strongly touched seeing the four Black women with memorials in the U.S. Capitol and was honored to participate in the unveiling of the memorial. She was nominated by former Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln to serve on the Congressional Task Force for a memorial to slaves who helped to build the U.S. Capitol—a significant fact often forgotten in our history. Let’s vote to remedy that!

(Dr. E. Faye Williams is president of The Dick Gregory Society.)

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