Arkansans honor Daisy Bates as statue unveiled at U.S. Capitol • Arkansas Advocate

More than a hundred people filled the pews at Little Rock’s Second Baptist Church Wednesday to watch the unveiling of civil rights leader Daisy Lee Gatson Bates’ statue in the National Statuary Hall. The native Arkansan is the third African American woman to receive the honor.

The local celebration that preceded the formal ceremony in Washington, D.C., at times felt like a proper church service as speakers offered prayers and song, and praised God for the historic occasion. Guests responded with applause, “amens” and shouts of approval as speakers shared their memories and words of respect for “Mrs. Bates.”

Best known as a mentor to the Little Rock Nine, a group of African American students who integrated Central High School in 1957, Bates was also, along with her husband L.C. (Lucious Christopher) Bates, publisher of the Arkansas State Press, a newspaper focused on civil rights and other issues in the Black community. 

Daisy Bates is the third African American to have a statue installed in the U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall. (Screenshot from livestream)

Several speakers praised Daisy Bates’ pursuit of an equitable education for all, including Crystal Barker, southwest region director for Delta Sigma Theta, a sorority of which Bates was an honorary member.

Barker challenged the audience to not become complacent and to continue Bates’ work by coming together and fighting because “our democracy is on the ballot.”

“We can’t just sit here and celebrate the fact that she did all of that,” Barker said. “The question is, what are you doing today for social justice and social activism? We cannot allow the things that are trying to attack our education system to become what it’s trying to become. Ms. Bates and other people fought for these rights for us to have equal education.”

Paula Rogers, a retiree who previously served as education manager for University of Arkansas at Little Rock Children International, attended Wednesday’s event and told the Advocate that while Bates did much to improve educational equality, “there’s just so much work to be done.”

“Critical Race Theory, all of the information that is being suppressed in the local schools about the history of Blacks, I think she would be furious right now if she saw what was really going on in the suppression of education and equality,” she said. 

Tension around the discussion of race in Arkansas classrooms stems from a ban on “indoctrination,” like Critical Race Theory, through an executive order and the LEARNS Act, a wide-ranging law that made several changes to the state’s education system. 

The Arkansas Education Department abruptly removed an AP African American Studies pilot course from the state’s approved course list just before the start of school last August due to concerns over “indoctrination.”

A federal judge on Tuesday partially granted a preliminary injunction in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the section of the LEARNS Act that bans “indoctrination.” 


While she didn’t have a personal relationship with Bates, Rogers said she was in her presence a number of times and remembers the civil rights leader as a “phenomenal” and “classy woman” who exuded excellence and social justice. 

Mary Lois Hardin also knew Bates and recalled her sophistication, beauty and articulation. Hardin is a board member of the L.C. & Daisy Bates House Museum Foundation, which hosted Wednesday’s Little Rock event. 

“I thought it was long overdue, but then I realized it was right on time,” Hardin said. “..It’s really almost a serene, spiritual effect for me today to see that she is finally getting her just due. We’re finally honoring her properly, and I’m proud of Arkansas for doing this.”

The idea of honoring Bates in Statuary Hall is at least two decades old. Former state Rep. Jeremy Hutchinson, a Little Rock Republican, filed a 2001 bill to honor the Huttig, Arkansas, native in D.C., though he later withdrew the legislation.

In 2019, Hutchinson’s uncle, then-Gov. Asa Hutchinson, signed into law a bill sponsored by Sen. David Wallace, R-Leachville, to install statues of Bates and musician Johnny Cash, which will be unveiled in September. 

Congress in 1864 authorized states to donate up to two statues for inclusion in Statuary Hall inside the U.S. Capitol. Arkansas chose to install statues of Uriah Rose, founder of the Rose Law Firm and the American Bar Association, and James Paul Clarke, former U.S. senator and Arkansas governor, in 1917 and 1921, respectively. 

Those in favor of their replacement have noted their obscurity as well as controversial ideologies. Rose was a secessionist and Clarke was a white supremacy advocate.

Bates’ eight-foot-tall bronze statue was crafted by Benjamin Victor, an Idaho-based artist who now has four statues in Statuary Hall. Bates is positioned next to Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy and Mississippi’s contribution to the collection. 

She also faces a statue of Rosa Parks, both of whom attended the 1963 March on Washington. Bates spoke briefly at the event, the only woman to do so. 

Bates’ bronze likeness depicts her holding a newspaper in one hand and a pen and notebook in the other, a nod to her work as a journalist and publisher. Bates was also a member of the NAACP and a button engraved with the organization’s name is included on her lapel.

The civil rights leader also appears to be in-motion, taking one step forward, a reminder of her life’s work of pushing society forward. 

“I think she would be overjoyed, overly joyed [about the ceremony] and I can imagine her husband would love to write this in his newspaper as to what happened today,” Hardin said.  

Citing poet Langston Hughes’ work “I, Too,”  Bates museum foundation board president Charles King told guests at the Washington D.C. ceremony that the struggles Bates endured because of racism highlight the country’s division, but her statue represents unity.

“The song of America was not the tune for Daisy Bates,” King said. “I have to believe the Almighty had a bigger and better song for Daisy … it appears that the America that Daisy sang and the America that America sang were two different songs, until today.” 

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