On the 4th of February, the law school hosted a program entitled “Sixty Since Silas, A Celebration of PioneeringSilas Hunt Excellence,” which commemorated the integration of the University of Arkansas School of Law through the admission Silas Hunt on Feb 2, 1948. It has been 60 years since the momentous event which not only marked the University of Arkansas as the first southern school to voluntarily integrate, but paved the way for African-Americans in secondary education in Arkansas and across the nation. We knew that it was extremely important to commemorate such a significant event.

The program was extremely well-attend which was a tribute to the planning committee chaired by professor Chauncey Brummer. Professors Ned Snow, Mary Beth Matthews, Jim Miller and Steve Sheppard and Malcolm McNair were the additional committee members. We are all extremely grateful to them for their dedication and hard work to bring to life such a fantastic program.

The commemoration began with lunch in the courtroom, accompanied by a viewing of the award-winning documentary film entitled Silas Hunt: A Documentary. Originally commissioned by the former Dean of the School of Continuing Education, Donnie Dutton, the film was produced and directed by Mandel Samuels and Christopher Irwin, both from Media Services. They put an exhaustive amount of research into the production of the documentary. It took them 22 months to complete the story of Silas Hunt’s life. To do so they traveled as far away as California to tape interviews. All their hard work paid off, and they created a beautiful documentary which, by the way, is available through the University of Arkansas Media Services in the School of Continuing Education and Academic Outreach (formerly the School of Continuing Education).

Immediately after the screening of the documentary, there was a panel discussion of alumni who graciously returned to share their experiences at thdsc_0181.JPGe law school and discuss how Silas Hunt’s legacy has affected their lives. The panelists for the program were George W.B. Haley (’52), Sharon Bernard (’69), Gene E. McKissic (’76), Rodney E. Slater (’80), Carrol Williams-Perkins (’89), André K. Valley (’96) and Carla Marie Martin (’04), and they were fascinating to listen to. Take a look at our Panelist Photos. Ambassador Haley talked about what it was like to be at the law school directly after Silas Hunt had been here, and the challenges he faced. He talked about the fact that his law school education, regardless of the circumstances he encountered while here, opened the door to the world for him even to the extent that he became an ambassador to The Gambia. The next speaker was Sharon Bernard, who was the first African-American woman to graduate from the University of Arkansas. She spoke about some of the hostilities she faced, but she also talked about how she felt that she was much stronger because of her experiences here-they enabled her to achieve great things, like serving the Michigan National Bank for 30 years and becoming the chair of the Michigan Children’s Trust Fund.

Gene McKissic of Brown and McKissic told a story about his family pulling up to get dinner at a restaurant when he wassixty since silas young. The waiter told his father that he had to enter through the back door, but his father refused. Gene spoke about what he learned from that-that it’s never good to compromise who you are-and Secretary Slater picked up on that during his remarks. Slater also told a story from his boyhood. The best ice cream in his hometown was at a little shop where black folks had to go to the back door to get an ice cream cone. His grandmother told him not to do that-that no ice cream was good enough to have to go to the back door for it. He remembered that lesson well, and still lives by the idea that you should never compromise your integrity and your dignity. He also talked about a the importance of life of public service and the many contributions on can make in the public sector.

Carrol Williams-Perkins spoke about how the school of law opened many opportunities for her after graduation. She talked about what it was like to be an African-American woman who spoke German and worked for the Siemens Corporation, and how she blew people’s expectations and stereotypes of her out of the water. Andre Valley talked about returning to Helena/West Helena and what can be accomplished through a life of service, particularly by representing the underrepresented. He also spoke about the broad variety of issues he deals with as a city attorney (by the way, his brother J.F Valley, also our alum, is the mayor of Helena/West Helena). Carla Martin, a Wal-Mart Realty Transaction Manager and the most recent graduate on the panel, talked about how far we’ve come and how grateful she was to each of the panelists who paved the way for her. She did say, however, that issues still exist. Carla told about how, even with all of her accomplishments and achievements in law school, she was unable to obtain a job in a private law firm in northwest Arkansas. Fortunately, things have changed even in the years since her graduation. But her talk reminded us that while we celebrate the history and how far we’ve come, we should remember that we still have a little ways to go yet.

The commemoration was attended by several members of the University administration and we’re very grateful to them for their presence. Our distinguished guests included: Chancellor White, Chancellor Designee David Gearhart, Vice Chancellor for Intercollegiate Athletics and Director of Athletics Jeff Long, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Johnetta Cross Brazzell, Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Bob Smith and his wife, Marcia June, Associate Vice Chancellor for Institutional Diversity and Education Carmen Coustaut, Director of Affirmative Action Willyard Collier, Vice Chancellor for Government and Community Relations Richard Hudson, former Board of Trustees Chairman Lewis Epley and nationally recognized poet Miller Williams. We were honored that they joined us for the afternoon presentation film and panel.

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That evening, the speakers (except for secretary Slater who had a previous commitment). Miller Williams, Dean Linda Ballard of the School of Continuing Education and Academic Outreach, Chris Irwin and Mandel Samuels and their guests, the law school committee members who organized the event, and Provost Smith and his wife all joined us for a lovely dinner at Bordinos. We chose from salmon, steak or portobello mushroom lasagna entrees, all of which were delicious. Chancellor Designee Gearhart happened to be dining in the restaurant as well and joined us for a few remarks, which was wonderful. Each of us present that night reflected on Silas Hunt’s admission to the law school and how his admission affected us personally.

In light of the anniversary of Silas Hunt’s admission we have asked the registrar and the honorary degree committee to grant a posthumous degree to Silas Hunt. We think it’s time.

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