Celebrating Arkansas Black History02/12/2016
February is a month for many things, but perhaps most importantly, it’s a month of remembrance. It’s a time to celebrate Black History and share the stories and legacies that contribute to our nation’s place in history.
Every day I see the monument of the Little Rock Nine on the north end of our capitol grounds. The monument silently captures the struggle of nine African American school children who stood for equality and civil justice for all. It not only reminds me of my responsibility, but it captures a significant piece of both Arkansas and American history.
It’s important for everyone to understand the contributions of African Americans to this country. We honor their achievements by remembering how they fought for the cause of freedom and their contributions to the areas of business, education, medicine and more. They have had a hand in changing the face of this nation, and it’s imperative for us to be a careful guardian of these historic stories. The truth of them, the accuracy of events, the passion involved, and the pain of their struggle—all deserves a place in history and preservation for future generations.
I want to talk about two people from Arkansas that made a significant contribution to American history.
Edith Irby Jones, born in 1927 to a sharecropper and a maid in Conway, became the first African American accepted at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. Amidst segregation, she earned her medical degree and became the first female president of the National Medical Association. She fought the struggle, she was successful, and she is a modern day example for women of any race and color.
Another notable Arkansan, John Herald Johnson, was born in Arkansas City and survived the flood of 1927. He sat atop the river levees with black and white children who huddled together, simply trying to survive. It was during this hardship that Johnson developed an eye for news, and went on to found the Johnson Publishing Company, which today has the brand names of “Ebony” and “Jet.” He was an incredible entrepreneur, publisher, and his roots trace back to Arkansas.
These are just two of many inspiring stories of people from Arkansas and throughout our nation that helped shape the world. There are many others we can celebrate, and I encourage you to find and tell those stories. But today, as governor, I’m pleased to participate in Black History Month and remember the history of all Americans.
We must never forget the pain of the past, nor lose sight of the promise of our future. African American history IS American history, and I am proud to share and remember – today and everyday – the legacies of people who have changed this nation for the better.