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A new statue to represent Arkansas in D.C. 

click to enlarge BRIAN CHILSON
  • Brian Chilson

Like all states, Arkansas has two statues selected by the legislature to represent our state in the U.S. Capitol. Uriah Rose, a successful and innovative lawyer, and James P. Clarke, a former governor and U.S. senator, have represented Arkansas in National Statuary Hall for approximately 100 years. Clarke died during his third term in the Senate, and the legislature adopted a resolution to erect his statue within four months of his death. He also happens to be my great-great-grandfather.

Our family has looked back fondly on Clarke's service to Arkansas. As families tend to do, we have focused more on his personality than on any particular policy positions, particularly since it all took place before we were alive. While he fought passionately for the causes he believed in — whether it was rooting out corruption from the state Capitol, protecting children from inhumane labor laws, or Philippine independence — we have always known him as someone who was fiercely independent and did not mince words. Sen. Joseph T. Robinson described the legislature's decision to honor him with a statue as an "unusual tribute" that had more to do with his "character" than their "affection and gratitude."

Of course, families also tend to view their own family members first as just that, rather than as whatever their careers consist of. As a child, I remember going with my grandmother to place a wreath on Clarke's grave every Christmas, and not because he had been a senator. We did this because he was her grandfather, and we did the same for her grandmother, parents and aunts and uncles.

My family is now aware of a statement Sen. Clarke made when he was running for governor in 1894, when he reportedly said: "The people of the South looked to the Democratic Party to preserve the white standards of civilization."

Obviously, my family and I condemn this statement and reject it in the strongest possible terms. The process of learning about this statement has been painful for us. Regardless, in my opinion, it is important for us, as a family and as a state, to be aware of our history so that we can learn from it and determine the best path forward together. From slavery to Jim Crow to present-day racial disparities in the criminal justice system — as just a few of the most egregious examples — African Americans have endured far too much for far too long in this country.

I, of course, strongly believe it is incumbent on each of us to work as hard as we can to build trust and to eradicate the evil of racism from our society. This is one of the most important reasons why I have offered my own life to public service, to help implement policies that ensure that all Americans, regardless of race or ethnicity, have the right to the American creed that we were all promised — that of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Part of this work necessarily entails having conversations about what we as a state celebrate. Regardless of the time in which Clarke lived, his statement regarding race was inexcusable, and the time has come to have a conversation about who should represent Arkansas in the U.S. Capitol for the time in which we live now. As Clarke's great-great-grandson, it is important for me to say that the time has come for Arkansas to be represented with new statues in the U.S. Capitol.

It is a decision ultimately for the Arkansas legislature. As I am leaving the service of the legislature, I will leave that discussion for my friends and colleagues in both parties that will continue to serve. I must say, however, that I strongly hope that one of the new statues will be Daisy Bates or a member of the Little Rock Nine. In my opinion, these icons were among the greatest American heroes of the 20th century, and the desegregation of Little Rock Central High represents what is likely Arkansas's greatest contribution to the country and the world in the history of our state. As someone who graduated from Central High and has been lucky enough to visit with and learn from many members of the Little Rock Nine, honoring them in this way would be extremely personally meaningful for me.

For 40 years — from 1957 to 1997 — Little Rock largely hid from the important history that took place at Central High, as many thought it too painful to discuss. Fortunately, we took a new direction in 1997, and the Visitor Center at Central High is one of the most visited places in Arkansas and one of the most important civil rights destinations in the South. My dad played a key role in charting this new direction; as a teenager at the time, this experience had a profound impact on my own development. The lesson for me was self-evident: Even when painful, we must have open and honest conversations about our history so that we can properly learn and grow from it. In the context of who represents Arkansas in Statuary Hall, the time has come to move in a new direction. I recognize and support that that time has come, and I hope to play a meaningful role in the larger effort to build a society in which we all have a shared future together.

State Rep. Clarke Tucker is the Democratic candidate for Arkansas's 2nd Congressional District.

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