LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – There are things you never really see until they are pointed out, and then you can’t unsee them. The arrow in the FedEx logo or mom spelled out in Wendy’s collar on the sign for the restaurant are lighthearted examples of this.
Recently something was pointed out to me, and once I saw it I could not unsee it. I had a hard time not thinking about it and made it aware to those who could act on it.
It was in the Pulaski County Court House, a building I have spent a lot of time in covering trials over the years, though I never saw it.
The building has been in Little Rock since the early 1900s and has seen a lot of history. What was pointed out to me was from a dark part of that history and should not have still been there.
In the marble above a water fountain, the remnants of a sign from more than 50 years ago that read “COLORED” could be seen, a common sight in the segregated past of Arkansas but shocking to discover in 2022.
Why it was there is not really in question. We know the misdeeds of the past, and few adults I spoke with wanted to address it publicly. One African-American woman told me it was still too hard of a pill to swallow, while a white woman said it was a sad part of life in the South but had little else to add.
For the group of Donaghey Scholars from the University of Arkansas Little Rock, the subject is a sign the past should not be considered erased when signs of it do surface.
“I was very shocked, did not expect that in 2022 ” Vivian Angeles said.
“I’m only 19, so I’ve never seen one in real life, so to know that was there and is present is upsetting,” Alison Stigarll added.
Other students noted they were surprised nothing had been done to, more permanently, remove the marking.
“I’d say something about it,” Adrian Rogers said. “I would talk to someone in charge of the facility and say, “Hey, this is not good that something like that is still up there,’ you know? “
More than likely, when the original sign was removed, the stain was not visible at all. Over time, though, it seeped back to the surface of the marble.
For the UA Little Rock students, that kind of creeping return echoes the larger issue of racism, which can lie in silence even as the tensions from it grows.
“A lot of it isn’t talked about, whether it be fear or shame, it’s not talked about, and it should be,” Angeles said. “Kids growing up should learn the history that happened and mistakes that were made so that they don’t happen again.”
“If we try to say we want to move forward and past it, we are being inconsiderate to those who actually went through it,” Stigarll added.
Just as the sign has left a mark even decades after its removal, so to have the effects of racism.
“There are people who carry that scar with them their entire life and raise kids with those scars,” Paige Martin said. “To not acknowledge that is a disservice to those people.”
That acknowledgment, the students noted, was a step on their path of learning.
“We have to take a perspective of education on this, especially when we see remnants of the past that are not very beautiful, you know, very disturbing,” Rogers said.
The county did not hesitate to make a change when the stain was pointed out. Within 24 hours of making a call about it, the mark was scrubbed from the marble.
In a statement, Pulaski County officials said the stain, which they called part of an “unwelcoming time in history,” was gone.
While it’s written in the Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal, it’s also written in history that all men have not been treated equally.
I like to think the founders knew this but also knew that in time, as a nation, we would evolve to a better place, and we did.