Celebrating Arkansans in the Civil Rights Movement

Each year, we celebrate Black History Month in February highlighting the many achievements of African Americans in the United States. We are especially grateful to individuals like Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks who were integral to the success of the national Civil Rights Movement.

There was a steady Civil Rights Movement occurring in the state of Arkansas as well. This month, we will highlight some of the achievements of the people who gave light to the movement and even in the face of unsettling odds, forged a path for those who would come after them. The quest for equality was and is to the benefit of all Americans. Black history is American history – it is our shared history. Remember and understand the past; it will help us shape and define the future.

Ozell Sutton

Ozell Sutton, (photo courtesy of the Arkansas History Commission)One of the most important Arkansas political activists at the height of the civil rights struggle during the 1950s and 1960s, Ozell Sutton was a key player at many of the movement’s most critical moments—both in the state and throughout the South. He was present at such watershed events as the 1957 Central High School desegregation crisis and the 1965 march at Selma, Alabama. In April 1968, Sutton was with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. when King was murdered on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. He was also a trailblazer in Arkansas race relations, becoming the first black newspaper reporter to work for a white-owned newspaper when he went to work in 1950 as a staff writer for the Arkansas Democrat.

To Learn more go to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture.

(Excerpt from Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture article by Brent E. Riffel.)

William Harold Flowers

William Harold Flowers was a lawyer, minister, social and political activist, and one of the leading figures in the civil rights movement in Arkansas in the 1940s. He was the first African-American special circuit judge in Jefferson County and a president of the African-American National Bar Association. He was also active in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in the state, serving as president of the Pine Bluff (Jefferson County) branch and as president of the state conference of branches. To Learn more go to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture.

(Excerpt from Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture article by Dr. John A. Kirk.)

Hattie Rutherford Watson

Harriet Louise Gertrude (Hattie) Rutherford Watson was an educator, librarian, and prominent member of the social and education communities in Pine Bluff (Jefferson County). She was an activist for the African-American community during the early twentieth century. She was also the wife of John Brown Watson, the president of Agricultural, Mechanical, and Normal College (AM&N), now the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. Harriet was very active at AM&N and enabled the college’s participation in the civil rights momentum of the New Deal. To Learn more go to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture.

(Excerpt from Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture article by Fon Louise Gordon.)

Ronald Norwood Davies

Ronald Norwood Davies was the U.S. district judge who presided over the litigation involving the 1957 integration of Central High School in Little Rock in turn helping to ensure the eventual integration of the high school. Davies first ruled that the state chancery court had no jurisdiction over the school case and enjoined its injunction, ordering that desegregation proceed. After Governor Orval Faubus ordered the Arkansas National Guard to surround the high school, preventing the Little Rock Nine from entering the school on September 4, 1957, the Little Rock School Board asked for a delay. Davies responded by repeating his order that integration be implemented “forthwith.” Davies then ordered the Department of Justice to enter the case, investigate the disruption in the implementation of the desegregation order, and to file for a preliminary injunction.  To Learn more go to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture.

(Excerpt from Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture article by Jeffrey B. Morris.)