Arkansas should honor the most honorable

Statues, statue
Sen. James Paul Clarke’s statue at the U.S. Capitol, near the entrance.

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.

Who instead?

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.

10 thoughts on “Arkansas should honor the most honorable

  1. Steve, while I never met Senator Clarke, I know he was selected by his peers to be the President Pro Tempore of the United States Senate. I am generally not for trying to apply 21st century morality to 19th century figures. You should also know that one of his descendants is Representative Clarke Tucker.

  2. I think it is important to note that, while someone’s views may have been considered right for their times, those views don’t always stand the test of time and thus, are not right for the ages. James Paul Clarke may have been representative of his times with his views on race relations, but that is a view that has been proven wrong for the ages.

    We must be careful when applying that measure, however, as almost anyone who holds any view considered right for their time can, in time, and regardless of all other views he or she may hold, be proven wrong for all time. In time, it’s possible the choice by California to honor Reagan may be viewed through a different lens, considering the groundwork he laid for an economic structure that many believe is directly responsible for the massive wealth inequality that exists today.

    But you are correct, Steve, that there are other qualified Arkansas candidates for inclusion with greater historical significance and/or social impact.

  3. From your list and considering the impact the best choice would Hattie Caraway. Clearly a pioneer whose path runs from coast-to-coast. That trailblazing accomplishment transcends political ideology and economic theories. Also it wouldn’t equate celebrity appeal with national/historical significance and impact…something to consider given where the statues are displayed. Which also makes Senator Caraway particularly appropriate.

  4. There is nothing wrong with changes these representatives from time to time. I would propose Winthrop Rockefeller and Daisy Bates if we want to select someone from the last century. Johnny Cash Sam Walton or Dale Bumpers would be worthy. I assume a person must be deceased to be considered.

  5. How about Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant of Fordyce Redbug and Alabama Crimson Tide fame. He was once asked by a young outstanding black player that he was recruiting “Coach Bryant how many black players do you have on your team?” He said “Son we don’t have black players and white players. We have football players.” The young man signed up and became an outstanding player.

  6. Hi, Joe. I wish I could say yes, but he’s just too closely related to Alabama. Maybe Arkansas and Alabama could share him, make him twice as big as the other statues, and split the cost? ; )

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