Monday is Daisy Gatson Bates Day, an Arkansas state holiday. It is celebrated concurrently with Presidents Day, when government buildings are closed in observance. The holiday comes as a foundation attempting to completely restore the civil rights leader's former home continues to look for ways to raise more money and promote her life's work.
Daisy Bates was the former head of the Arkansas NAACP Conference of Branches. She and her husband Lucious Christopher (L.C.) Bates also published the Arkansas State Press, a once leading African-American newspaper in the state. But Bates is probably best known for assisting 9 African-Americans integrate Little Rock's Central High School in 1957. That struggle is detailed in her book-length memoir of the event, The Long Shadow of Little Rock.
“It was one of the darkest days in the history of America, because of what happened and how it happened and how long it took place,” says Dale Charles, who sits on the board of the L.C. And Daisy Bates Museum Foundation board.
Charles also now holds the same post as Bates did at the time of the school crisis: President of the Arkansas NAACP. He's been in that leadership role since 1996 and president of Little Rock branch since 1988. He says he first met Daisy Bates in the early 1980's.
For a few years, visitors have been able to schedule appointments to tour the Bates home, located at 1207 W. 28th Street in Little Rock. Charles, who has been on the museum foundation board since it was formed in 1999, says a lot of progress has been made since in restoring the house.
“Right now we have it in really, really, really good shape,” Charles says. “But we still have a ways to go because we want to raise enough money to hire an executive director so we can have it open so many hours every day.”
The site is listed as a National Historic Landmark. It currently opens for private tours made by appointment.
“We have a quite a few requests to visit the house. When people come to town, they want to see the Clinton Library and they want to see Central High School and the Central High museum and they want to see the [Bates] house,” Charles says.
The museum foundation's current president Dan Weathersby says the board hopes to find ways to raise more money and expand services to the community beyond the private tours.
“Some of those things would include open house type events,” says Weathersby, who has been on the foundation board since last fall. He was elected president earlier this year. “[We want] to show people the inside, the outside, talk about the Bates' endeavors; to have maybe a backpack drive and help in community-oriented events and things of that sort.”
Weathersby says the museum also hopes to embolden its partnership with the National Park Service, which runs the Central High School Historical Site. He says the Bates museum board will be collaborating soon with the Park Service on programs for young people to help with landscaping and other improvement projects around the house. He says the museum wants to promote “good stewardship.”
“This is not about any individual. This is about all of us. This is about history. It's not just African-American history. It's people history,” he says.
Dale Charles says the foundation still wants to raise about 40 to 50 thousand dollars to complete renovations to the basement and other areas. He says they need about 100,000 dollars to hire the executive director and keep the house open to the public on a regular basis. A brick campaign kicked off last summer and has raised about 3,300 dollars, Charles says. Donors can buy a 4 by 8 brick for 100 dollars. Three lines of personal inscriptions can be etched into the brick with up to 15 characters per line. The foundation plans to place the bricks along a commemorative walkway on the west side of the house.
A 75,000 dollar grant awarded by AT&T nearly a decade ago went to replace the house's roof and electrical wiring, central heat and air conditioning and flooring. The furniture inside the home now is similar to that found in the late 1950's, when the Little Rock school crisis was at its height, Charles says.
In addition to the brick campaign, the foundation hosts a fundraising banquet every year to celebrate Daisy Bates' birthday. Bates's birthday is November 11, though her year of birth is less certain. Most historians believe it was 1913. She died in 1999. Charles says the banquets usually raise “a few thousand dollars” but he notes that “we need to raise a lot more than that.”
“We'll be discussing ways to have a bigger fundraiser,” he says.
The 501(c)(3) nonprofit reported 1,787 dollars in contributions in 2012, according to its 990 tax filing. It 2013, it reported 2,035 dollars in contributions. In 2014, it reported 4,001 dollars.
People who want to shedule a tour of the home can call Mary Hardin at 501-372-1927.