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After 50 years, civil rights activists may still have a long way to go

Submitted by Alton Young on October 2, 2013 – 10:49 amNo Comment

The UALR Institute of Race and Ethnicity was among the sponsors of the 50 Years of Desegregation Celebration that took place in downtown Little Rock on Sept.21 at the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce.

The event began with the unveiling of the 50 year desegregation marker and throughout the program the 2013 Arkansas Civil Rights Heritage honorees were recognized. These 11 people were intimately involved in the desegregation process of Little Rock in 1963.  Among those honored was Ozell Sutton, the first African-American journalist to work for a
white-owned newspaper.

The festivities included contributions from UALR faculty members including: UALR Chancellor Joel E. Anderson and Institute on Race and Ethnicity director Michael R. Twyman, both of whom spoke at the event. Chancellor Anderson briefly spoke about the unequal treatment of ethnic minorities and how it is a remaining problem that the community must face.

“Denial doesn’t work.  Inaction won’t get the job done.  You have to face it, to fix it,”  the chancellor said while addressing the crowd.

Also on hand were History Department chair and Donaghey professor John A. Kirk and College of Business professor Rachida Parks, who, respectively hosted and participated in a panel titled Developing Future Leaders, which capped off the event.

Sutton was the only member of the 11 nominees to speak and it was the highlight the event.

“A man has nothing to say about when he is born, where he is born, to whom he is born, or even what color he is born.  That was the gift of God.  He may have nothing to say about
when he dies, where he dies, or how he dies,” he said. “But that space in between those two periods belong to him and he has everything to say about what happens in that space.”

Sutton, a native of Gould, Arkansas, recalled buying a house on University Avenue in Little Rock when no one wanted to sell African Americans property in the area.
He told of the struggle and everyday trials of racism, harassment, and abuse that he and others faced in efforts to desegregate Little Rock.  He retold the stories of marches and demonstrations and of the part he played in having Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. moved from a small city jail to the one in Birmingham, which was considerably safer for him.

Sutton expressed gratitude for the honor and while telling a handful of his stories of perseverance, his voice wavered only when his emotions got the best of him.  After his address was done, he was asked about the progress of African Americans today. Ozell answered with the same determination that made him an integral part of the desegregation of
Little Rock.

“We’ve come a long way, but have a long way to go,” he said.  “And we’re going to do that too.”

The thought that there is still work to be done by African-Americans is a sentiment also expressed by UALR alum Myron Jackson, a young entrepreneur who is the CEO of his own company – the design group. “As we celebrate this success and this milestone, let us not forget that the day that white businesses opened up its doors to black customers was the day that many black businesses started to erode.”

Jackson, who earned degrees in Marketing and Public Relations at UALR, appreciates the contributions of Sutton and others and the hardships they faced during a time of unbelievable circumstances.  “We celebrate today.  We know what this means for us; for tomorrow, there is still much work to be done.”

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