Arkansas is replacing its century-old statues in the U.S. Capitol with more modern figures: American music legend Johnny Cash and civil rights hero Daisy Lee Gatson Bates.
Currently, Arkansas is represented in the National Statuary Hall by two statues: Civil War-era attorney Uriah Milton Rose and James Paul Clarke, who was both a governor and U.S. senator in the post-Reconstruction era.
While Rose opposed secession, he sided with the Confederacy when Arkansas split from the Union, Roll Call reported. And Clarke had a legacy of racist views, vowing to “preserve the white standards of civilization” while running for governor in 1894.
“Most everyone who was involved in the discussion agreed we needed to update the statues with representatives of our more recent history,” Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson said in his weekly radio address.
It’s not clear when the statue swap will take effect, but Roll Call reported it would likely take several years as private funds had to be raised for their construction.
Clarke’s great-great-grandson said he approved of the decision.
“If I could pick any two, those would probably be the two,” former state Rep. Clarke Tucker (D) told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. “Johnny Cash is my favorite musician of all time. He’s had a pretty significant impact on my life through his music. And I’m a Central High grad and I absolutely worship the Little Rock Nine and Daisy Bates.”
Bates, who died in 1999, served as a mentor to the Little Rock Nine, the first black students to enroll at the previously all-white Little Rock Central High School. An angry mob protested their arrival and blocked them from entering for weeks in 1957. She was also a pioneering African-American newspaper publisher who fought for civil rights and served as the head of the state’s NAACP chapter.
“It looks like the state of Arkansas is shining down on one of its darling daughters today,” Bates’ goddaughter, Jan Brown, told the Democrat-Gazette. “To have her being recognized by millions of people all over the world, this is something that will resonate and will help improve our state.”
Cash, who was born in Arkansas, was also known for his activism, fighting for Native American rights, prison reform and famously wearing black as a statement of support for the poor and downtrodden. His 1971 protest song, “Man in Black,” also became his nickname. In 1997, he wrote that he continued to wear black in public because little had changed.
“Apart from the Vietnam War being over, I don’t see much reason to change my position today,” Cash wrote. “The old are still neglected, the poor are still poor, the young are still dying before their time and we’re not making any moves to make things right. There’s still plenty of darkness to carry off.”
Cash died in 2003.