On July 14th, I attended the University of Arkansas at Little Rock Institute on Race and Ethnicity’s 2nd Annual Civil Rights Heritage Commemoration and Celebration at the William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum. When arrived I pleased to see, and be able to spend time with several members of the Harold Flowers Law Society who were attending, including Judge Leon Johnson, President of the Society, Judge Kathleen Bell, Valerie Kelly, Dean Felicia Epps, Collette Honorable and Maurice Rigsby.

The event was held to honor the Little Rock Nine, L.C. and Daisy Bates and Christopher Mercer Jr., an alumnus of our law school. I was especially looking forward to seeing Chris (C.C.) and his family. I could spend an entire blog post on him, but instead encourage you to read about his many contributions here and here.

Although I did not grow up in Arkansas, I, like many people growing up at the time remember the images from the integration of Little Rock’s Central High School, and have read about the experiences of several of the Little Rock Nine over the years. In 2007, I had the good fortunate to attend, with University of Arkansas Chancellor Emeritus John White, the 50 Year Commemoration of the integration of Central High School. There were many events, to celebrate that significant milestone, but the 50 Year event we attended was held on the lawn of Central High, and President Clinton was the keynote speaker. If you should find yourself in Little Rock, you should put Central High and the Central High Museum on your list of “must see” places.

As part of last week’s commemoration, the Institute unveiled Civil Rights Heritage Markers which are to be installed on President Clinton Avenue. Among the featured speakers was Ms. Rider Bliss Ann Malone-Hunter, a retired teacher and former Freedom Rider, who had not returned to Arkansas since her involvement in the Civil Rights movement many years before. She talked about how good it felt to return to a changed Little Rock, and the reason she felt compelled to stand up to injustice. She charged the young people in the audience to do the same. Minniejean Brown Trickey spoke on behalf of the Little Rock Nine. She talked about the “handsome” Attorney Mercer’s role in the integrations of Central High and scolded those who say, “We’re tired of hearing about all this.” She stressed the importance of sharing history so as not to repeat it, and the power that the story has for young people.

Unfortunately C.C’s health was such that he was unable to attend the day’s events, but I was able to visit with him later that day, in his home to share the day’s events and to see how he was doing. His daughter Crystal Mercer spoke on his behalf in a talk that was poignant, funny and eloquent. She said of her father, “His daughter Crystal Mercer spoke in his absence. “Some people have called my father an unsung hero. He is not unsung, to me he is a giant,” You can watch a video of the occasion here.

The day’s events also consisted of a forum on “Examining the Legacy of the Little Rock Nine.” I was entitled, “On the Path to Excellence in Education: Lessons for Today through the Lens of 1957.” The panelists for the forum were Terrence Roberts, a member of the Little Rock Nine, Bliss Ann Malone Hunter (mentioned above), Sadie Mitchell, Associate Superintendent, Elementary, Little Rock School District, Nancy Rousseau, Principal, Central High School and Hilary Trudell, a 2012 graduate of the Clinton School of Public Service. You can view a video of the forum here.

The event also celebrated the Institute’s one year anniversary. The Director, Professor Adjoa Aiyetero, shared with the audience, the Institute’s accomplishments over the last year, its goals and major initiatives.

Later that evening it was time to unwind after the drive down and a day on the go. I’d intended to go to By the Glass in the Heights, but distracted by the sounds of dance music, ended up going to Browning’s Mexican Grill to catch a couple sets by the Swinging Franks. It was nice to cut a rug, even if those of us on the dance floor were oldies, but goodies. The Franks are a fun band if you like classic rock with a bit of 70’s dance music & danceable country thrown in for good measure. I can’t vouch for Browning’s food, ‘cuz the kitchen was closed when I arrived, but the margarita was de-lish!

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