FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — An Arkansas Senate committee will review SB674 next week. The bill would create a racial unification commission, memorialize the Elaine Race Massacre and allow the Board of Education to offer a Black culture elective in schools.
The committee intended to take up the bill Thursday but was delayed when the session ran too long. The bill, sponsored by State Sen. Joyce Elliott (D), aims to promote racial healing. D’Andre Jones, a Fayetteville City Councilmember who supports the bill, said education is the key to unification and understanding.
“If [the legislature] cares about Arkansas right now, we can’t change the past, but we can certainly use the past as a tool to educate, empower and create a remarkable future,” Jones said.
The commission would assist the state in promoting racial equity, including creating markers symbolizing important moments of racial significance in Arkansas, including the Elaine Race Massacre. This occurred in 1919 when Black sharecroppers organized to call for higher percentages of their profits. After white vigilantes tried to intervene, shots were fired, and then-governor Charles Brough sent in troops.
Estimates indicate more than 200 Black Arkansans were killed in the ensuing carnage, while five white Arkansans died. After the bloodbath, 122 Black Arkansans were prosecuted.
The bill calls for the, “full posthumous exoneration of all 122 Black Arkansans who were wrongfully convicted of various crimes, as well as Robert L. Hill, the cofounder of the Progressive Farmers and Household Union of America, who fled to Kansas to avoid unjust arrest and prosecution.”
Aaron Clarke is a community organizer in Rogers who helped draft some of SB674 and traveled to Little Rock to testify Thursday. He said even if the bill fails, it indicates the direction of education.
“It’s just the beginning,” Clarke said. “Hopefully, we can continue doing things like this, and we can start trying to make real change and bring Arkansas together.”