Black History Month Celebration At Arkansas Capitol Points To Progress & Problems

Feb 8, 2016

Gov. Asa Hutchinson (center) signs a black history month declaration while sitting beside State Sen. Linda Chesterfield (right).
Credit Jacob Kauffman / KUAR

Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson used the stature of his office to commemorate Black History month with African-American leaders and dozens of school children at the Capitol, Monday. The governor signed a declaration and lent his voice.

“It is not a time for African-Americans to celebrate your own history by yourself. It is a time that you share African-American history with everyone else,” said Hutchinson.

The Republican governor said everyone must be vigilant in protecting the gains of the past.

“The Little Rock Nine monument is on the north end of the Capitol. I get to see it every day because as you look out my office you see the Little Rock Nine looking back,” said Hutchinson.

Reverend George Parks of New Hope Baptist Church in North Little Rock said Black History Month is about more than immersion in the past. He linked historic struggles to a contemporary movement, “from slavery through Jim Crow and segregation, and now even during the era of Black Lives Matter.”

State Senator Linda Chesterfield of Little Rock, the first African-American graduate of Hendrix College, said after remarks that celebrating black history means fighting modern-day struggles over issues like Voter ID laws - backed by the governor.

“Your heart can be in the right place but your actions can diminish where your heart is. When you hurt the opportunity to be a part of a participatory democracy we lose something in this country. I’ve fought all my life for these things,” said Chesterfield.

Chesterfield and Hutchinson also shared a stage last April to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the 13th Amendment, abolishing slavery.

African-American History Month, predicated on earlier observances, was declared by President Gerald Ford in 1976.