By Steve Brawner
Hillary Clinton’s running mate, Sen. Tim Kaine, said Aug. 20 that Virginia could “do better” in picking its two historical figures to honor with statues in the U.S. Capitol than George Washington and Robert E. Lee.
Certainly, Arkansas could. Unlike Virginia, our state is honored in Congress’ National Statuary Hall Collection by two figures occupying very small spaces in anyone’s history books.
One is Uriah Rose, founder of the Rose Law Firm and a nationally prominent attorney during the latter half of the 1800s and early 1900s.
The other is James Paul Clarke, Arkansas’ 18th governor from 1895-96 who then served more than two terms in the U.S. Senate after the turn of the century. He was president pro tempore of the Senate, broke with his party to support the Panama Canal, and supported progressive legislation, including opposing literacy tests for immigrants.
White supremacy views, not a titanic figure
Clarke also, according to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas, supported white supremacy. Campaigning for governor in 1894, he said, “The people of the South looked to the Democratic Party to preserve the white standards of civilization.”
We are all products of our time, but Clarke clearly doesn’t represent the best of Arkansas, and he doesn’t represent all Arkansans. The state should grant its highest honors to the most honorable.
Aside from his views on race, he is not a titanic historical figure in Arkansas history, much less American history. Certainly, he does not compare to historical figures representing other states, such as Washington or Kansas’ Dwight Eisenhower. One of Oklahoma’s is Will Rogers, while Helen Keller is one of Alabama’s. On the other hand, many states also are represented by forgotten or forgettable figures and by those who also should be replaced, such as Mississippi’s Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy.
Perhaps Arkansas should follow the lead of some states that have replaced statues in recent years. California swapped one of its statues for President Reagan in 2009. Michigan honored President Ford with a statue in 2011. Arizona enshrined Sen. Barry Goldwater in 2015. In 2016, Ohio replaced one of its own white supremacists with Thomas Edison, paying the sculptor $80,000 for the job.
Replacing a statue would require an act of the Legislature. It also would require funding.
I’m doubting Clarke would have many defenders. The controversy would involve paying for the new statue and, of course, deciding who to pick.
According to the 1864 law establishing the collection, the statue must honor a deceased person. Some off-the-top-of-my-head suggestions would be:
– Hattie Caraway, the nation’s first female senator.
– Daisy Bates, civil rights leader and mentor to the Little Rock Nine as they integrated Central High School.
– Johnny Cash, famous country singer.
– Sam Walton, founder of Walmart.
The selection would not have to enjoy universal support. Not every Californian is a Reagan fan, and even Edison has his detractors because of his sometimes ruthless business practices. But the statue must honor someone historically important, clearly tied to the state, and recognizable. It should be someone of whom Arkansans could say, “We had the only one of these, and you didn’t.”
History changes as our lenses get longer. Those who seem important today can be forgotten tomorrow. Some should be forgotten. And some really weren’t that memorable to begin with.
Arkansas should find someone else to represent the state. Who would you pick?
© 2017 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.