Alum plans to honor Arkansas flag creator
Author and UALR graduate Jason Irby is spearheading a campaign to honor long-ago Wabbaseka resident Willie K. Hocker, the woman who created the Arkansas state flag.
Irby is also from the small rural town, which is located a few miles northeast of Pine Bluff, and attended some of the same Wabbaseka schools at which Hocker taught decades before. One such school, Willie K. Hocker Elementary, is the flag-maker’s namesake.
The School of Mass Communications alumnus said he hopes to generate publicity for the woman, as well as for Wabbaseka, on the flag’s 100th anniversary. Because of the timing, Irby describes this as “a once in a lifetime opportunity.” Another reason behind the effort is Irby’s hometown pride, although he now lives in Little Rock: “That’s where I grew up, that’s my hometown.”
Willie Hocker was born July 21, 1862 in Madison County, Kentucky. Her family moved to Arkansas in 1870 to the Dudely Lake Township near Wabbaseka, where her father was a farmer. After obtaining her teaching certificate in 1887, she began working in Jefferson County schools, becoming principal of First Ward in Pine Bluff in 1895. Two years later, she went back to working in schools near Wabbaseka and stressed Arkansas history throughout her teaching career, which lasted for 34 years.
Hocker was a member of an organization called the Daughters of the American Revolution, which was tasked with the creation of a state flag in 1912, upon finding that none existed. The discovery was made when then-new battleship USS Arkansas was to be commissioned with the Arkansas flag, only to discover that there was none. A committee formed to obtain design submissions then chose Hocker’s among 65 others.
Hocker’s design consisted of a simple red background with a large white diamond centered with a blue border around it. The 25 stars in the border represent Arkansas as the 25th Union state. There were also three blue stars in the diamond itself, representing the three countries that have flown flags over the state: France, Spain and the U.S. The Arkansas General Assembly adopted the design, to which they added the state’s name, in 1913. After adoption, the flag remained unchanged until 1923 when a fourth star was added in the diamond for the Confederacy.
There is a small display about Hocker’s life and the story of her flag at the Jefferson County Historical Museum in Pine Bluff, as well as a historical marker that was placed in front of the Wabbaseka United Methodist church where she was a Sunday school teacher and longtime patron. The marker was put in place in 2005 and notes the contribution of her flag design.
But that isn’t enough for Irby, who has proposed creating a monument to honor both Hocker and the USS Arkansas in the Wabbaseka city park, pledging the first $500 to the project. He announced his donation on Jan. 1 when he revealed plans for 2013 events, the first of which was in the park Feb. 26. Irby said he wants his hometown to be remembered and honored in the annals of Arkansas history.
There will be a public contest to design the monument incorporating the state flag, Hocker and the USS Arkansas. Design ideas and donations can be submitted at lovewhithinlife-jasonirby.com and by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Plans for a dedication ceremony later this year have not yet been made.
Hometown pride is something that Irby covers in his book, “Love Within Life,” in which he tells of his formative years in Wabbaseka.
“I walk, I write, I run in the footsteps of those who came before me,” Irby said.