Dr. Brian Mitchell, an assistant professor of history at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, attended the State of the Union on Feb. 4.
U.S. Rep. French Hill, a Republican from Little Rock, invited Mitchell as his guest. In addition to the State of the Union, Mitchell also visited the Smithsonian National Museum of African History and Culture and the U.S. House of Representatives.
Mitchell and Hill have worked together in recent years to honor black World War I soldiers whose history has been overlooked.
In 2018, the duo worked together to obtain a Purple Heart and other medals for the family of Pvt. Leroy Johnston, a World War I veteran who was killed in the Elaine Massacre with his three brothers just months after coming home from the war. Johnston earned several military honors for his service to his country, but did not receive them at the time of his discharge or death due to racial discrimination.
This collaboration was the inspiration for Hill’s introduction of the World War I Valor Medals Review Act, which reviews the military records of all minority service members during World War I to determine if they received the proper recognition. The act was included in the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act.
“Dr. Mitchell’s partnership was instrumental in the World War I Valor Medals Review Act being signed into law in December,” Congressman Hill said. “His work advocating on behalf of victims of past racial discrimination sets right injustices perpetrated against African Americans and other minority groups. Only by acknowledging tragedy can we begin to heal and move forward together towards a more hopeful future.”
Mitchell and Hill are now working to recognize the contributions of Scipio Jones, a black attorney who rose to national prominence after successfully defending the Elaine 12, a dozen men who were sentenced to death by all-white juries after the Elaine Massacre.