Capitol Firsts: Arkansas!

It’s August first, and that means (for the first time in ten months) it’s time for another Capitol First!

In a week, my wife, son and I are heading off to the midwest to tool around and visit friends, and while there I’ll be able to collect capitols 26 and 27, Minnesota and Iowa. I’ll try to feature one of those in September. But this month, for no good reason I can think of, we’ll visit Arkansas’ capitol building.

From the outside, the building is fairly standard; it looks like a faithful attempt to recreate the US Capitol. The interior is similar – stately if somewhat unremarkable. Where Arkansas gets interesting for me is when we start to get into the history, and specifically the Little Rock school desegregation case of 1957. The capitol sits not far from Central High School, where in September of that year nine African American teenagers were chosen to become the first to attend a mostly white Little Rock school. The first-term Governor of the state in 1954 was the unfortunately named Orval Faubus, who had by most accounts been a moderate for much of his career. However, in the increasingly charged atmosphere in the post-Brown v. Board South, Faubus knew he needed to express a more strongly segregationist platform in order to secure re-election (which he did, in 1958 and then twice more). He barred the children from entering the school, prompting a year-long conflict with the federal government over desegregation.

Today, there is one major reference to the case at the capitol: an inspiring statue of nine figures, on the grounds just to the north of the building, walking toward the dome where Arkansas’s Confederate-inspired flag still waves. That statue was a highlight. Finding Faubus’s bust in the building, tucked somewhat out of the way, was interesting in its own right: a three-term Governor whose name is synonymous today with stubborn bigotry, his place uncertain, caught between morality and commemoration.

 

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