Bill Bowden reports in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette this morning
that a planned Sister Cities visit by people from Ghana
was scrubbed because Harrison leaders feared the Ebola virus.
No Ebola virus has been reported in Ghana, though it is on the continent of Africa, where other countries have experienced the disease.
It is another embarrassment for a city long held up to unflattering attention for its ill treatment in years past of black people. It is doubly embarrassing because resistance to the visit reportedly included the North Arkansas Regional Medical Center, the Harrison School District and North Arkansas College. If medical and educational leaders can't stand up to unfounded fears (risk of Ebola entering Arkansas from any source, including countries where it has been reported, is slight, much less from a country where it hasn't been reported) who can?
Still more embarrassment comes from the back story that a white supremacist had been actively attempting to stir up opposition to the Sister Cities visit since April. Why not get some white visitors from Europe instead, he suggested.
Happily, Jacksonville, Ark., wasn't hysterical. It received a delegation from Ghana Friday and they'll also be visiting North Little Rock.
Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher said he did his own research and saw nothing wrong with the Ghana delegation visiting his city this month.
Harrison Mayor Jeff Crockett, who's worked mightily to reverse views about his city on racial issues, said he hopes the group will visit next year. He told the Democrat-Gazette:
"It's hysteria in my book," said Crockett. "It's hysteria that's built up, and it's not based on fact. And I have trouble going along with that kind of thing."
"I'm just hoping that this wasn't too big a slap in the face," he said. "I just pray that it doesn't get blown out of proportion, and they realize what the concerns were and forgive us for not following through."
PS — Something like 140 comments and 46,000 visitors so far to our Facebook post on the subject.
PPS — UPDATE ON MONDAY, Aug. 25. Though the Democrat-Gazette article quoted the Harrison mayor as listing the college as among the partners who'd "backed out," the college president Jackie Elliott, wrote me Monday to take exception, saying, in part:
.. the College did not participate in the discussions to postpone the Ghana visitors. I was not at the meeting where the decision was made to postpone. At the time of the decision, the College was still in the planning stages for the visitors.
This is an opportunity for me to share some travel photos of my brief stop in Ghana and the universally warm welcome I received in Takarondi and Sekondi. Perhaps the Methodist church we visited in Sekondi can offer up a prayer for greater understanding.