One hundred and fifty years ago this week Arkansas ratified the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Just after the conclusion of an afternoon seminar in Sturgis Hall of the Clinton School of Public Service on Tuesday, Dean Skip Rutherford asked folks to stick around and reflect on the Amendment.
“That Amendment abolished slavery and as a result over 400,000 slaves in Arkansas were freed,” he said.
Part of events across the state organized by the Arkansas Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission, called “Let Freedom Ring,” the Clinton School event mirrored one on the other side of downtown at the Arkansas State Capital.
There, Governor Asa Hutchinson spoke on the amendment's legacy and the hard-scrabble politicking out of which it grew.
“We remind ourselves of this historic moment, but also the challenge of that time and it took a lot of political muscle. And it took a lot of political muscle for the Congress to pass the 13th Amendment. Horse-trading had to be accomplished, much as we do today,” he said.
Arkansas's Legislature was the twenty first to ratify the Amendment, when it did so on April 14, 1865.
“We remember the leadership that brought that to pass and the sacrifice of so many in working to preserve our nation,” Hutchinson said.
And thus, organizers rang the capitol bell 13 times at one o'clock, also known as thirteen hundred hours. And over at the Clinton School, students and faculty rang a bell, donated to them in 2007.
On the Capitol Steps, State Senator Linda Chesterfield, one of the first black students to integrate Hendrix College fifty years ago, directed her focus on the more significant anniversary of the day.
“To be a part of the celebration of my state ratifying, finally the 13th Amendment to the Constitution speaks of how far the state had to come,” she said.
She noted how in the resulting years of Reconstruction, African Americans began to serve in the State Legislature. More served during that period than at any other in the State's history. A history, which longtime Civil Rights activist and Little Rock Resident Annie Abrams, who attended the Clinton School Event, says she sees continuing through her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.
“I've lived four generations of evolution of the history of the evolution of 'how far have we come,” she said.
Abrams herself comes from a lifetime of political and social activism stemming from the 1957 Central High School desegration saga and her work on one of the most prominent black newspapers of the time, The Arkansas State Press.
“And for me to have been in the House of the Senate, in D.C. To have been in the Arkansas Capitol. To have the Governor who's ringing the bell over there to sit on my couch...I know we have made progress,” she said.
From recognition of citizenship to political representation to the fight for integration, Abrams says she is inspired to keep going not only by the history of progress originating in the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment, but also by her own simple motto: “Service is the rent you pay to stay on this Earth.”
“Now...I'm going to pay some rent. Have you paid any rent today?”
She hopes those guiding words will help future generations confront the struggles and injustices of their day.