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After three months of hard work that produced historic and much-needed legislation, the 92nd General Assembly has adjourned. Together, we cut taxes. We raised teacher pay. We funded roads and highways, and we passed legislation that will bring more efficiency to state government.
But while we were passing laws that will make history, we also passed legislation that recognizes Arkansas’s history. Senate Bill 75 authorizes the state to put two new statues in National Statuary Hall in Washington, D.C. House Bill 1030 declared September 1 to be an annual Arkansas Music Appreciation Day in honor of Arkansas’s rich musical history that is rooted in the earthen soul of Arkansas from the gumbo mud of the Delta to the tree-shrouded hollows of the Ozarks.
I signed those bills this week in a ceremony that included some of the royalty of Arkansas’s civil rights movement and musical heritage.
The Arkansans who currently represent us in Statuary Hall are U. M. Rose, a lawyer who served as president of the American Bar Association, and James Paul Clarke, a governor of Arkansas and a U.S. senator. Their statues have been there for nearly a hundred years.
Most everyone who was involved in the discussion agreed we needed to update the statues with representatives of our more recent history. But there were many opinions about which historic figures best represented our state. The debate was lively and healthy. In the end, the Senate chose Daisy Lee Gatson Bates and Johnny Cash.
Jan Brown, Mrs. Bates’s goddaughter; Annie Abrams, a friend of Mrs. Bates; Rosanne Cash, Johnny’s daughter; and Joanne Cash, his sister, were among those who joined me in the conference room for the bill signing.
The history of the civil rights struggle in Arkansas is an essential part of our story that says much about courage and who we are as a state. Daisy Bates was a key person in that story. She continues to inspire us.
Music is a big deal in Arkansas, and Johnny Cash is a big deal in music. Those two great historic figures who made such a difference in Arkansas in their own way are appropriate people to tell part of the story of Arkansas in our nation’s capitol.
Senator Dave Wallace, who sponsored the bill, spoke of walking past the portrait of Mrs. Bates that hangs on the north end of the capitol. He said, “I’d look at that portrait. I’d look at the statue of the Little Rock 9. I’d think about the courage it took for her to walk with those children. Mrs. Bates changed Arkansas, and changed it for the better.”
Music is such an important part of Arkansas that the House of Representatives decided that we should set aside a day of appreciation for the heritage. The bill mentions some of the most well-known Arkansans, including Johnny Cash, B.B. King, Glen Campbell, Charlie Rich, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Al Green, Conway Twitty, and Floyd Cramer.
Rosanne Cash spoke poetically about the musical heritage of her family. She said, “The music that the Cash family sang in the fields, in the church, and in their Dyess home formed the background of their lives. For my father, it became the center of his life and the wellspring from which he drew his inspiration. He carried on the tradition that began at my grandmother’s piano in Dyess.”
It was an honor to sign these two bills that help tell the story of the great state of Arkansas.