Arkansas Capitol to Unveil Statues of Civil Rights Icon Daisy Bates and Music Legend Johnny Cash

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In the hallowed confines of the United States Capitol, change is afoot. The guardians of Arkansas history, statues that have kept vigil for a century, are set to be replaced. Many may not have raised an eyebrow at the proposed exchange, such was the obscurity of the figures representing Arkansas. As recollected by former Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who also represented Arkansas in Congress, Arkansas citizens, especially the younger generations, were disconcertingly unaware of these historical figures.

A striking transformation is underway. Time renders some historical figures obscure while it burnishes others. Soon, the state of Arkansas will send forth two alluring new representatives — the legendary ‘Man in Black’ also known as musician Johnny Cash, and Daisy Bates, a beacon of resilience in the battle for school desegregation.

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The coming weeks will herald the installation of Bates’ statue, while the bronze likeness of Johnny Cash is slated for later in the year. Bates, a leading light in the Arkansas civil rights movement, is celebrated for championing the cause of Central High School’s trailblazing Little Rock Nine. Familiar to Arkansas citizens, her legacy extends to a street named in her honor in Little Rock’s downtown, and the commemoration of the state’s Daisy Bates Day on Presidents Day.

Idaho-based sculptor Benjamin Victor, entrusted with the crafting of the Bates statue, dove headfirst into understanding her. From perusing her 1962 autobiography to visiting her residence in Little Rock and the historic Central High School she influenced, he spared no effort. He envisions the statue of Bates — depicted as an eight-foot tall figure, strolling with her newspaper in arm and the Arkansas State Press’ notebook and pen in hand — as an inspiration to Capitol visitors to learn more about Bates and her indefatigable spirit to stand up for what is right.

Next in line for commemoration in the Capitol is Johnny Cash. Hailed from the tiny town of Kingsland, just 60 miles to the south of Little Rock, Cash achieved global fame across country, rock, blues, folk, and gospel genres, with a globetrotting career that saw 90 million records sold worldwide. His dual induction to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Rock & Roll Hall of Fame solidifies his legendary status. His statue, standing eight-feet tall, portrays Cash with his trademark guitar and a Bible in hand, a testament to his deep-seated beliefs.

Kevin Kresse, a Little Rock sculptor tasked with the Cash statue, aims to encapsulate the spirituality that defined Cash’s career. He views Cash’s representation as a necessary counterbalance to the ongoing strife in Congress. Kresse, who previously sculpted Arkansas musicians such as Al Green, Glen Campbell, and Levon Helm, appreciated Cash’s authentic inner thoughtfulness.

The new statues have a historic task at hand — to replace those of James P. Clarke, a former governor and U.S. senator around the turn of the 20th century, and Uriah Rose, a distinguished 19th-century attorney. Notably, a call for change was led by Republican Sen. Bart Hester and supported by Clarke Tucker, a Democratic state senator and the great-great-grandson of James P. Clarke. The latter’s statue had attracted criticism for racist comments made by Clarke.

The transition wasn’t without its challenges. Lawmakers deliberated and debated on a spectrum of replacement prospects, with suggestions as varied as Walmart founder Sam Walton to a Navy SEAL from the state, killed in action in Afghanistan. Finally, Bates and Cash were chosen. Sen. David Wallace, the legislative sponsor for the change, expressed hope that the selection of Bates and Cash would reflect a broader view of Arkansas history, and truly encapsulate the everyday people of the state.