Conversation on Race and Release of Second Annual Survey on Racial Attitudes in Pulaski County by the UALR Institute of Government
March 8, 2004
Joel E. Anderson, Chancellor, University of Arkansas at Little Rock – Opening AddressÂ
Conversation on Race and Release of First Annual Survey on Racial Attitudes in Pulaski County by the UALR Institute of Government March 8, 2004
Welcome to the campus of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and to this mini-conference-a Conversation on Race at which we will release the first annual survey on racial attitudes in Pulaski County conducted by the UALR Institute of Government.
What a rare opportunity! This is role reversal. A university chancellor gets to speak to a room full of preachers, priests, rabbis, and imams, who are obliged to sit and listen, for however long! Let me put you on notice that I intend to make the most of the opportunity.
“One beautiful Sunday morning, a minister announced to the congregation: ‘My good people, I have here in my hands three sermons.a $1000 sermon that lasts only five minutes, a $500 sermon that lasts fifteen minutes, and a $100 sermon that lasts a full hour. Now let’s pass the collection baskets and see which one I’ll deliver.’”
- Cell phones are wonderful.when silent in a public meeting.
- Thanks to the UALR Institute of Government director and staff.
- I attach great importance to what we are doing here today. I have been eager for this day to arrive. I deeply appreciate your presence and your interest.
I love numbers. I think they are so important in decision making, in planning for an organization, or in developing public policy. That is why the University is going to provide numbers, important numbers, to the community today.
But numbers can be numbing and faceless. If there is any issue in the history of our country that has had a human face, it is racial discrimination. It is not an issue that is just historical.or academic.or hypothetical. So let me at the beginning give the topic a human face.
The Lynching of John Carter in Little Rock in 1927
I am going to relate a 1927 event in Little Rock . My source for this is an essay by Brian Greer in the Arkansas Times on July 28, 2000.Â
In May 1927, a young black man named John Carter was accused of attacking a white mother and daughter. Briefly he eluded search parties, then was captured, and was lynched. The mob stood him on a car, threw a rope over a utility pole, put a noose around his neck, drove the car out from under him, shot him, dragged his body through the city, and burned it in downtown Little Rock at 9 th and Broadway.
Given the inaction and ineffectiveness of city officials, the Governor called out the Arkansas National Guard to restore and preserve order. One contingent of the Guard arrived at a downtown intersection to find “a man directing traffic with a charred arm that had been broken off of John Carter’s body.” (Brian Greer , Arkansas Times, July 28, 2000 )
According to Greer’s essay, there were 54 lynchings in Arkansas between 1910 and 1929. John Carter’s lynching in Little Rock was one of three in the state that year), and there were additional ones elsewhere in the state in 1932 and 1936.
We might note that these events were not all that long ago. They were only a few years before the Holocaust in Europe .
Such horrible events don’t die with their victim.
Let me fast forward 30 years to 1957.
Brian Greer reported the following from a conversation in September 1957, words of a mother talking to Daisy Bates:
“I am frightened Mrs. Bates. Not for myself, but for my children. When I was a little girl, my mother and I saw a lynch mob dragging the body of a Negro man through the streets of Little Rock . We were told to get off the streets. We ran. And by cutting through side streets and alleys, we managed to make it to the home of a friend. But we were close enough to hear the screams of the mob, close enough to smell the sickening odor of burning flesh. And, Mrs. Bates, they took the pews from Bethel Church to make the fire. They burned the body of this Negro man right at the edge of the Negro business section.”
The woman speaking to Daisy Bates was named Birdie Eckford. The next day her daughter Elizabeth, one of the Little Rock Nine, walked alone through an angry crowd that taunted and insulted and threatened her. Many here will recall a photograph of Elizabeth Eckford on that frightening walk, one of the most famous pictures from the 1957 events at Central High School .
In 1957 Mrs. Eckford had vivid personal memories of the lynching of John Carter 30 years earlier. And I can assure you there are families all over this state in which memories of that event, or others like it, live on and will be passed on from one generation to the next.
History in Regard to Race Has Unique Relevance
There is no escape from the history of race relations in this country.
I know of no instance in which the words of Jeremiah 31:29 fit better: “The fathers eat sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.” We all today are burdened by decisions made three centuries ago and two centuries ago and one century ago by persons we never knew.
This history has had a human face. But whites and blacks see our history differently.
Whites today point to the progress of the last fifty years in education, public accommodations, and electoral participation. White here in Little Rock might point out that forty years after the Central High crisis, Little Rock in 1997 had an African American superintendent and African Americans were routinely elected to seats on the school board, the city board, and to the state legislature.
It is a fact that progress has been real and significant.
Whites see African Americans holding a glass half full.
African Americans acknowledge that progress–but still experience discrimination frequently. They see themselves still holding a glass half empty while whites continue to hold one that is not just half full but completely full.
One of the roots of the differing perspectives on the glass is this: There are two stories of American history (and Arkansas history and community history).
At our gatherings-religious, business, civic, or whatever-we unconsciously reflect the white story in the history of the United States . We feel it, we are proud of it, we easily overlook the failings in it, we invoke the heroes and events from it in our conversation and in our work.and in our sermons and speeches.
Blacks know and understand and appreciate that same history. But there is a second story, a powerful black story in American history that most whites are barely aware-but it is a story that blacks cannot escape. It includes slave ships. It includes slavery, the unvarnished version. It includes branding as inferior. It includes Jim Crow laws. It includes lynchings in the neighborhood, and not very long ago. The legacy of that history affects all of us, but for black Americans it is very much present and is enormous and burdensome.
The 1997 Research Project
I realize I am mostly “preaching to the choir” today, else you would not be here. You know the issue we are addressing is major and serious.
But let’s fast forward forty years from 1957.
I want to repeat a story I have told on an earlier occasion.
On September 25, 1997 , there was a wonderful event at Central High School . It was billed as a day of reconciliation, of closing the chapter of the state’s history that began 40 years earlier when the Governor of Arkansas had called out the Arkansas National Guard to prevent the desegregation of Central High School .
I was in the audience that fall day in 1997. The Little Rock Nine were all present. They made it special. Mayor Jim Dailey, Governor Mike Huckabee, and President Bill Clinton all participated. They made it special.
After all the speeches, the officials, in a beautiful symbolic act, opened the doors to the high school, and the Little Rock Nine walked in, this time with obvious approval of the the crowd, which applauded.
But on that same day in 1997, UALR graduate students, in a course taught by Speech Communication Professor Carol L. Thompson, carried out a research assignment-to determine if there was “any difference in the way an African American and a white American were treated at local stores when trying to return merchandise for a cash refund when no receipt was available.” Here was what they found: “In every case, race made a difference. In every case, the white student received a refund against stated company policy. In every case, the African American student was denied a refund even when the store clerks were African Americans themselves.” [Quotations from Dr. Thompson's guest essay, "A Day of Wonder, Irony," Arkansas Democrat-Gazette , October 10, 1997 .]
There are indeed human faces in the story. And it is important to tell such stories because you have to face it to fix it.
Role of the University in This Divisive Community Issue
This brings me to the question, what is the university’s role.why is the university focusing attention on this old, divisive, issue?
We understand that as the community prospers, UALR prospers, and as the community suffers, UALR suffers. We are in it together.
UALR is a metropolitan university, which means several things. One thing it means is that we see ourselves as partners with the community. Community leaders have told us through the years, and again this year as we have carried out a strategic planning process, that they want the University to help solve major community problems. Race repeatedly pops up as a major community problem.
Given this commitment to the community, there are these specific things the University can offer:
Race is a difficult issue that in many communities, not just here, has been cloaked by a code of silence, which makes it easier for a community to pretend no problem exists. The University is in a position to break the silence. The University can help make the issue visible and assure that it receives attention.
- The University can provide good information, as we are doing today.
- The University can be a convener. It can call community leaders to the table and they will come. You did.
- The University can provide a neutral site for intelligent and frank discussion of a delicate subject.
It is not the role of the University to solve the problem. It is a community issue that requires a community solution.
To achieve a solution, there has to be broad-based, communitywide, commitment and effort. The University cannot provide that effort by itself. But the University is in a position to encourage it, to facilitate it, and to provide good information which people of good will must have as they endeavor to work through a difficult issue.
Why a Survey?
A prominent economist named Joseph Schumpeter once said, “Demography is destiny.” Indeed, the basic characteristics of a population are fundamental shaping forces. Let me note that today we are also providing you some basic state and local demographic data, black and white, from the 2000 U.S. Census. You will find it informative and pertinent.
Why a survey?
We are an educational institution. There are many things we don’t do and can’t do. We had to ponder the question, how does a university help its larger metropolitan community address the issue of race relations? What can it do that is appropriate to a university? We concluded that one of the things we could probably do better than anyone else was provide good information and then encourage and facilitate deliberation and discussion of the issue.
A survey is a simple but powerful tool for those who will use it.
A survey of community attitudes provides a community mirror . It will enable us to see ourselves, our differences and our similarities more clearly.
It is hard to deny the truth about yourself when you are looking at a mirror. A well-done survey is a good mirror. It is a mirror that will disclose both good news and bad news.
An annual survey will also allow us to keep score. After a few years we will have trend lines that will tell us whether we are moving and in which direction.
Although we can claim significant progress in the last half century, we should never doubt that we can lose ground , particularly if we are inattentive.
My hope is that in 7 – 10 years we will have done so well, documented by our annual surveys, that someone in the national media will do a story about how good race relations are in the heart of Arkansas.
Why Did We Invite Religious Leaders?
Why did we invite you this year? (Incidentally, we don’t know who we will invite next year and would welcome your suggestions on that or other points for next year’s release of the survey results.) But why were you first?
Racial discrimination is ultimately a matter of the heart.
Matters of the heart matter to you.
You understand that people have to face a problem to fix it and you try to help them face their problems.
Given the work you are devoted to, day in and day out, we had a hunch that you might be the group most interested in the data and information we were going to supply.
We also had a hunch that you might use it more than anyone else.
Those of you with pulpits help set the tone, the mood, in our community. No single group of influentials in our community has the number of recurring opportunities that you do to lead on this difficult issue.
You come from a variety of situations, and I would not presume to tell you how you should do your jobs. But as you minister to your respective flocks, I hope that what we are doing here today will cause you to find a way, appropriate to your situation, to make the issue of race in our community a recurring item on your agenda.
I repeat, our community has to face it to fix it. You are well-positioned to help the community face it.and fix it.
To End on an Optimistic Note
Let me end on an optimistic note.
We are, all of us, one people. Our racial category is human. We are all made in the image of God. We ought to treat each other accordingly.
But too often we don’t, because of race. There is still much to do.
Leaders can make a better future come sooner.
I expect that we will be wrestling with this problem a good distance into the future, and that we will experience discouragement and setbacks along the way.
But when I am tempted to become discouraged on a big issue, including this one, here are the thoughts that press into my mind:
Even near the end of the 1980′s, just before it happened, I do not believe any responsible person clearly foresaw the fall of Berlin Wall, which trumpeted the end of Communism and the Cold War. Nor did anyone foresee the freeing of Nelson Mandela from prison and the peaceful transfer of power from whites to blacks in South Africa , with Mandela becoming President. These were both wonderful developments that, before they occurred, were generally viewed as dreams of those given to fantasy.
These events tell me that if together we join this most difficult and persistent issue, and if we join it in our community for the long haul .who knows, we might someday realize a sudden breakthrough followed by rapid progress. Isn’t that a wonderful thought?!
But we have to face it to fix it. So let’s look into that mirror.