Ozell Sutton, the first black newspaper reporter to work for a white-owned newspaper in Arkansas, will be honored for his role in the 1963 desegregation of downtown Little Rock businesses, along with 10 posthumous honorees at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 21, at the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce.
The UALR Institute on Race and Ethnicity is partnering with the Chamber of Commerce for the third annual Arkansas Civil Rights Heritage Commemoration to celebrate the 50th anniversary downtown desegregation in the city. The event is part of the Chamber’s 31st annual Minority Enterprise Development Week.
Sutton will speak at the ceremony and is expected to share memories about the move to desegregate downtown Little Rock, which was the media largely excluded from covering out of fear of adverse publicity and the possibility of igniting widespread opposition.
In addition to Sutton, posthumous honors will be bestowed upon Dr. Garman P. Freeman, Dr. Morris A. Jackson, William Starr Mitchell, James H. Penick, Arthur Phillips, Rev. Negail Riley, Bert Strauss, Dr. William H. Townsend, Dr. Evangeline Upshur, and B. Finley Vinson.
Each will be honored with bronze markers placed along the Arkansas Civil Rights Heritage Trail in front of the Chamber building.
UALR Chancellor Joel Anderson, Jay Chesshir, president & CEO of the Chamber of Commerce, French Hill, CEO of Delta Trust and Bank and Chamber Chairman, and Myron Jackson, CEO of The Design Group and sponsor of MED Week are scheduled to speak.
Worth Long, a 2011 Arkansas Civil Rights Heritage honoree, who also worked with COCA and the DNC during the downtown efforts is also expected to attend along with the families of the honorees.
History of Little Rock’s Downtown Desegregation
According to research by Dr. John Kirk, Donaghey Professor and Chair of the UALR History Department, in 1963, business and community leaders representing three different organizations, the Council on Community Affairs, Downtown Negotiating Committee, and students from Philander Smith College, worked secretly to plan and execute a peaceful desegregation of downtown retail and restaurant establishments.
Thanks to negotiations between COCA, DNC, and area businesses along with sit-in protests led by Strauss and Worth Long, a 2011 Arkansas Civil Rights Heritage honoree, throughout the year, businesses began to serve African Americans for the first time without the restrictions of desegregation.
By the end of the year, most of the city’s main restaurants, parks, playgrounds, and other venues were successfully desegregated.
In honor of the award recipients, commemoration activities will include a public unveiling of the markers at 10:30 a.m. followed by a reception, and seminar at 12:30 p.m. that will focus on the future of diversity in business leadership.
All events are open to the public; however, space for the seminar is limited to the first 100 people to register at “Developing Future Leaders.”
Photo caption: Ozell Sutton, civil rights leader (photo courtesy of UALR Center for Arkansas History and Culture, National Dunbar Historical Collections).