By Carmien Penny, The Forum, the University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s student newspaper
Editor’s note: This article has been reprinted with permission of The UALR Forum.
The UALR Institute on Race and Ethnicity hosted a free event on Tuesday, Sept. 30, at the Bailey Alumni and Friends Center to give people an opportunity to meet with Allan Ward, an author, civil rights activist, and speech communication professor emeritus at UALR.
Junior Trevor Collins hosted the event and interviewed Ward. Collins is an East Scholar and e-commerce major who has interned at the Institute on Race and Ethnicity in the past. The event gave the two men an opportunity to discuss Ward’s most recent book, “Civil Rights Brothers: The Journey of Allan Ward and Albert Porter.” The audience of the evening included Chancellor Joel E. Anderson and Ruth Shepherd of Just Communities of Arkansas. Also present was the copy editor of the book, as well as the photographer who took the picture of Ward and Porter that graces the cover.
During the discussion between Collins and Ward, many details concerning the work Ward participated in were brought to light. Ward received his doctorate in 1960 from Ohio University. When deciding on his next plan of action, he kept in mind that it would be impossible to teach at a white state college and continue his work in civil rights. He knew that in order to stay engaged and active in the movement, he would have to make a move. That move landed him at Lane College, a historically black institution located in Jackson, Tennessee. It was there that Ward met Albert Porter, who was not only one of his new colleagues, but a man dedicated to nonviolent forms of activism within the civil rights movement. The pair worked alongside each other until 2013, when Porter passed away.
For the majority of people, there are general rules about what conversation topics are safe, and not so safe. Weather is considered very safe. Religion and politics are tolerated. But sexuality, gender, class, and race issues are not well-tolerated topics of discussion. For many people, these topics can bring discomfort and frustration, and also elicit feelings of anger and apathy. But Ward seemed more than comfortable discussing the uncomfortable. This may be attributed to the fact that he has been fighting in the interest of equality for over 50 years.
But for those who haven’t been fighting for human rights for that long, one hopes that something can still be done to have meaningful and effective discussions on these trying issues in order to push past the ingrained urge to be right, and instead open up to new ideas. Even for Collins, the path was not easy.
“For the majority of issues, I’ve always known about them, but haven’t always known how to deal with it. What should I do as a citizen? As a student? What can I say?” [Collins asked.]
It can be a confusing and overwhelming topic to deal with, especially as everyone’s experiences vary, and each generation has dealt with different obstacles unique to them.
Ward discussed how attitudes about race have changed with time.
“As circumstances change, the type of need changes. There was a time where the efforts had to be towards ending the laws of segregation, so people could meet and mingle and get to know each other. Then we get past that, and you start getting individuals who have certain habits and patterns, certain traditions, certain customs, certain attitudes…and then you’re dealing with those individuals,” he said.
It is nearing the end of 2014, and despite what some may think (and wish), these discussions are still necessary.
“People keep bringing it up because things keep happening. I think the biggest mistake our generation makes is thinking that it’s over,” Collins said.
What can be done by the everyday college student? According to Ward, one way is to start working on making a genuine connection with these individuals. This is something that was imperative to his and Porter’s success.
“Far beyond the sit-ins and demonstrations, there had to be individuals sitting down in the room together,” Ward said.
This is something that might be done at any level, from finding someone within a group to converse with that one might not normally to making a real connection with someone else. One does not have to walk the streets holding signs, and shouting at the top of their lungs in order to make a difference. Though that type of activism is powerful, it is helpful to recognize that college students have options, and that one of them can be found with a small group in the comfort of a living room.
Ward still offers advice on how to have these conversations 50 years later, but he optimistic about the future.
“I think there’s not a single destination in that there are many. Albert and I would talk about how far we’ve come with the change of laws, with the change of customs, with people being able to know each other, in the integrated schools and so on,” he said.
Ward said, “To see all those wonderful positive changes, and then on the other hand to see all the things that remain to be done. It’s both things happening at the same time. It’s the best of times and the worst of times…all the time.”
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The Institute on Race and Ethnicity at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock was founded in July 2011. With a vision to make Arkansas the best state in the country for promoting and celebrating racial and ethnic diversity, the Institute conducts research, promotes scholarship and provides programs that address racial inequities. It does so by facilitating open and honest dialogue aimed at empowering communities and informing public policy to achieve more equitable outcomes.