“Keep the pot boiling”

Bates felt strongly about his plans to establish the Arkansas State Press as a voice for the black community, so after the paper’s first few years of growth, his purpose as an editor became to bring the plight of the black community to the doorsteps of the white leaders, and if justice couldn’t be found there, to force confrontations in the courts.

Bates knew that change was possible, but he also knew that blacks had to help themselves and take advantage of their opportunities if they wanted to see a change in their status within society. Through his editorials, Bates urged his community to “keep the pot boiling, to keep the effort going, to keep the program working, not to let up until results are substantially realized. It is a sign of weakness to make a demonstration and then allow the enthusiasm to cool off.”

Bates led in keeping up the excitement, unveiling any and every unjust, unlawful, or unfair treatment experienced by the black race. For example, he protested the unnecessarily harsh treatment of a black man who was stopped by a policeman for exceeding the speed limit, denounced what he called “Hitler-type” tactics reportedly used by officials in Texarkana while trying to entrap venereal disease-carrying prostitutes, expressed his disapproval of the appointment of a white woman as postmaster in Menifee, Arkansas, a primarily black-populated town, and criticized a white police officer who kicked a pregnant black woman because she was standing in the wrong line at the theater.

Bates even advocated for black policemen to patrol predominantly black neighborhoods, as well as Ninth Street, after the killing of Sergeant Thomas Foster by a white police officer. He later suggested black military police patrol the neighborhoods following their return from WWII, which eventually came to fruition.

Shoot and run

Disturbing events continued to happen throughout the state, and Bates continued to report on them no matter how troubling they seemed. There was one instance where a group of soldiers were on a train and they had gone onto a switch track in Dumas, Arkansas, to let another train pass. When the train stopped, the troop of soldiers hopped out to stretch. As one black soldier was waiting to step back onto the train, an official said something to the effect of, “Nigger get on that train.”

When the soldier looked around to see who said it, the official pulled out his gun and hit the soldier on the head. The gun went off simultaneously with the blow and the soldier was killed. A train porter who was on the scene of the incident shared the story with Bates and questioned why no one had covered it. Bates, of course, as he put it, never took anybody’s word for anything, but always investigated the matter. If he couldn’t investigate, he’d send someone he trusted to do so.

Bates called up his friend Harold Flowers, a lawyer and minister out of Pine Bluff, Arkansas, to see about the matter. After finding that what he’d heard was true, Bates filed a report with the Justice Department after an unsuccessful attempt for the NAACP to do so.

Prisoners of war

Another incident that bothered Bates occurred in Little Rock when four black and four white military policemen were escorting German prisoners of war through the city. The men stopped for a meal at a downtown cafeteria and the white men and Germans were taken inside while the blacks were sent to the back door and were asked to eat in the kitchen.

Displeased with the compliance of the blacks, Bates couldn’t shake the incident. Later that evening, agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation stopped by the State Press office to do their bi-monthly check-up to inquire about individuals who may be involved with subversive, or disruptive, activities within the city. Bates said that he knew somebody, referring to the two black soldiers, and if they weren’t subversive, “hell, they should be.”

Posted in: Activist, L. C. Bates

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