Director’s Message: After the March on Washington
One day after the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, we have ample opportunity for change in our nation and in Arkansas. As a young man, I often heard stories from family members and friends about their experiences participating in the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s and how they managed life living in the segregated South.
I will never know the full extent of what they went through but hearing their stories helped me visualize their struggles and their triumphs. I will always admire them for their tenacity and bravery. I realize every day I am a fortunate recipient of their courage. This is one of the many reasons why I seized the chance to attend some of the 50th anniversary events in Washington, D.C. this past weekend.
The experience quickly became one of the most gratifying of my life. What was most uplifting was the composition of the crowd. It was an intergenerational group of thousands of people of all races and ethnic groups. It look liked America – who we really are and who we hope to become – finding common ground, celebrating what makes us unique while acknowledging that we are all one.
As one body, we celebrated the hundreds of thousands of people from all across the country who went to the nation’s capital on August 28, 1963, to impress upon our nation and its leaders the importance of living up to its creed.
That same year an extraordinary movement was also under way in Arkansas. Fifty years ago, an integrated group of business, community, and college student leaders worked together to bring about the peaceful desegregation of Little Rock’s downtown business sector. Throughout the year, major hotels, movie theaters, and even the Robinson Auditorium began to service African Americans for the first time in a desegregated environment. By the end of the year, most of the city’s main restaurants, parks, playgrounds, and other venues were peacefully desegregated.
On Saturday, September 21, we will honor individuals who were responsible for the leading the effort to bring about this change. This year’s Arkansas Civil Rights Heritage honorees were an intergenerational, interracial group of people who found common ground, took time to understand their differences, and most importantly, took action. We hope you will join us in commemorating this milestone in our history and in celebrating some of Arkansas’s civil rights heroes.
Fifty years and one day ago, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and others challenged us to dream of our best. It is now our turn to take the time and muster the courage to do what may be uncomfortable, and at times unpopular, but necessary.
We must honestly ask ourselves, where are we now? When we look around in our communities, in our classrooms, in our professions, and most importantly in our hearts and minds, do we look like Arkansas? Do we look like America?
Fifty years from now, will our descendants be proud of the work we have done? Will we have left this state better than we found it?
When the celebrations are over, we must continue the work. I encourage you to join us as we continue to seek justice for everyone by remembering our shared past, informing ourselves and others, and empowering our youth to truly define the future.
Dr. Michael R. Twyman
Director, UALR Institute on Race and Ethnicity
Learn more about the 50 Year Celebration of the Desegregation of Downtown Little Rock.
See photos from the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington