Dr. John Kirk, Donaghey Professor and chair of the History Department, spoke to a group of students from Indiana University Bloomington Saturday, Jan. 19, at the Arkansas Studies Institute about the Civil Rights movement in Arkansas.
The event, sponsored by the UALR Institute on Race and Ethnicity in partnership with the Little Rock Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, was part of a civil rights tour conducted by IU Bloomington.
The Civil Rights Immersion Trip, an annual excursion in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., gives students the opportunity “to visit a culturally and historically significant site.”
While visiting the Old State House Museum, approximately 55 students viewed the Arkansas Civil Rights Heritage Trail, an Institute on Race and Ethnicity initiative, with interim director Priscilla McChristian and staff members, Tamisha Cheatham, and Donna L. Shelton. Kirk explained the history and purpose of the heritage trail.
“Understanding our history is fundamental to any progress we hope to make toward racial and ethnic justice in Arkansas,” said McChristian.
Later during his presentation, “A Movement is More Than a Moment: The Civil Rights Struggle in Arkansas Since 1940,” Kirk discussed local historical events ranging from the familiar to contributions by lesser known individuals such as William Harold Flowers, Ozell Sutton, and Edith Irby Jones.
“We must understand what happened before the 1957 crisis and since 1957 if we are going to get a complete picture of the history of the civil rights movement in Arkansas,” he said.
While the Central High Crisis of 1957 is the most recognized event in Arkansas civil rights history, according to Kirk, local activism efforts in Arkansas started in the 19th century when African Americans successfully participated in the political process during reconstruction and beyond.
“Up North, all they really tell us (about the Central High Crisis) is after the troops let the kids in, it’s like they won, it was over. That was our perception of it; but you have to really listen to the stories and get a mental image of what actually happened. It gave us another perspective on social injustices,” said IU Bloomington student Derrick Hutton-Kinsey.
According to Barry Magee, assistant director for Diversity Education at IU Bloomington, the theme of the trip was “Making a Career of Humanity.” While in Little Rock, the students visited local organizations known nationally for their humanitarian efforts such as Heifer International and the Clinton School of Public Service.
They also visited other sites that were integral parts of the Arkansas Civil Rights movement including, the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center, Philander Smith College, and Little Rock Central High School.
The Institute on Race and Ethnicity was founded in July 2011 during the 50th Anniversary of the Freedom Riders coming to Little Rock and the unveiling of the Arkansas Civil Rights Heritage Trail. The trail was established to raise awareness about the rich and important civil rights legacy in Arkansas.