“Our flag is not just one of many political points of view. Rather, the flag is a symbol of our unity.” – Adrian Cronauer
by Caleb Talley
Arkansas is dealing with an identity crisis. Legislatively, at least. State lawmakers have spent recent weeks struggling with what, and whom, they want to represent them symbolically to the rest of the country.
Sometimes these things are a no-brainer, as with the decision to replace the Arkansas statues inside the United State Capitol’s Statuary Hall. It’s probably safe to assume the vast majority of Arkansans have no clue who represents them in granite. And even those who do might not know why they should care about James Paul Clarke and Uriah Milton Rose.
Imagine the disappointment of an Arkansas student on a school trip to the U.S. Capitol as he discovered the historical Arkansans representing him alongside the likes of George Washington, Thomas Edison and Helen Keller were virtual unknowns from Mississippi and Kentucky.
Senate Bill 75, by Sen. David Wallace (R-Leachville), would have Clarke and Rose replaced by a pair of Arkansans with a little more name recognition – civil rights icon Daisy Gaston Bates and country music legend Johnny Cash.
The bill sailed through the Senate by a vote of 33 to 0. It was met with resistance in the House, where some lawmakers bellyached over Cash, a known philanderer who dabbled with drug usage in his day. Cash, of course, would put that behind him after becoming one of the most celebrated musicians in American history. Rolling Stone proclaimed his I Walk the Line the greatest country song of all time. Compare that to Clarke, who as a governor and senator fought to keep white supremacy a key doctrine of the Democratic Party, and I’ll take Cash any day.
The House failed to pass the measure but later expunged the vote. As of press time, the bill had again cleared a House committee and appeared to be on its way to becoming law.
Another measure of slightly more consequence was House Bill 1487, filed by Rep. Charles Blake (D-Little Rock). Blake’s bill would have changed the designation of the blue star above “Arkansas” on our state’s flag.
The three blue stars below “Arkansas,” which were on the flag when it was adopted, represent the United States, France and Spain. The star in question was added to the Arkansas state flag in the 1920s to represent the Confederacy and the state’s role in rebellion during the Civil War. Rather than to remove the star, which was added at the height of Ku Klux Klan influence in Arkansas, Blake asked his fellow lawmakers to change its designation to represent the Native Americans who called Arkansas home for generations.
Blake’s proposal was met with vitriol. Even after the bill received the endorsement of our popular Republican governor, critics cried that it would “erase history,” and Confederacy supporters showed up during committee to say as much, claiming the measure to be an “affront to the education of history.” The bill was handily defeated.
I don’t think Blake was looking to erase history. There’s no escaping that treasonous piece of Arkansas’ past even if we tried. There are plenty of historical markers in every one of the state’s 75 counties. Blake wanted to “correct course.”
It appears that those few angry voices who opposed Blake’s bill are more interested in honoring the Confederacy rather than relegating it to the history books. The Confederacy lasted four years, barely accounting for 2 percent of Arkansas’ rich history. It’s not a culture, and it’s not synonymous with Southern heritage. Southern heritage existed long before the Confederacy and continues to exist 154 years after the failed rebellion.
At the very least, the blue star atop Arkansas’ flag should represent the United States, and the Confederacy should be demoted to the bottom half of the flag with Spain and France.
I’m not Confederate. I’m a proud American and a proud Arkansan. My state has so much more to offer its citizens and the rest of the nation than antiquated tokens of racism meant to appease an angry, vocal minority.
This issue of AMP is proof that Arkansas is home to a great many men and women of all races, ethnicities and countries of origin with the common goal of making life better for others through innovation, entrepreneurship and healthy competition.
Imagine the message our state lawmakers could send to the next generation of Arkansas business pioneers, especially those who have not yet discovered the value of doing business in the Natural State, by showing a willingness to correct course.