Over the last few years, as a professional journalist I have written extensively about the need to capture and chronicle memories of Arkansas’ sports past before the people who have those memories pass away. My goal has been to chronicle the stories and records of minorities in Arkansas sports history.
I feel it’s more critical at this point to seek out African Americans more than whites because all of the old all-black high schools and junior highs have either been repurposed or destroyed. Except in rare instances (i.e. Dunbar High School in Little Rock), so many of the memories and memorabilia from those places are in danger of being lost forever. Many of the high schools from pre integration still exist, and some of their memorabilia has been preserved over the decades. It’s vital to note that the major newspapers of the Jim Crow era (the Democrat and Gazette) and smaller town papers catered to coverage of the white schools’ sporting events. So we still have plenty of those records.
Black newspapers did cover black sporting events, but that coverage is less robust and more sporadic. My long-term goal is to create an online history project series, with articles, pictures and video — a multimedia repository for an important part of our state’s heritage. Initially, my focus is on Arkansas and African Americans, but the ultimate goal is really bigger than that. The story of Arkansan athletes – blacks, whites, Asians and Hispanics alike — form a interdisciplinary thread that often moves across the nation, and the world, as a whole.
For seven years, I’ve been working on a nearly 200-page anthology entitled African-American Athletes in Arkansas: Muhammad Ali’s Tour, Black Razorbacks & Other Forgotten Tales. It publishes later in 2017, and I’m now taking pre-orders to help determine how many books should be printed in the first run.
If you want to be notified of when the book publishes, what will be in it and how to order it, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Why do I, “a white guy,” care so much?
I know firsthand how nebulous the concept of race can be. Anybody looking at me would call me “white,” and I do label myself as such for the sake of simplicity. That’s the box I check off when speeding through forms. But my father is not “white.” He is Turkish, and that is an entirely different ethnic group from the light-skinned peoples who have populated northern Europe for centuries.
Technically, I should be considered “Asian-American.” But, growing up in Little Rock, I’ve never considered myself under this label. And I know I would have a lot of trouble (pardon the phrase) “reorienting” my mind the idea of labeling myself that way.
Because I know how fluid the concept of “race” can be when considering one’s ancestors, I don’t think the term can be universally and scientifically defined in the same way that, say, the organ “lungs” can be. Yet something with an ambiguous definition can still be very important and very real.
I don’t want to shy away from our past. I want to learn more about it, grapple with it and share it. I know there’s a lot of value in that, even if I can’t yet foresee all the ways that value will manifest in coming generations.
This page is a work in progress. Long-term, I want to build an Arkansas sports oral history project. In 2017, my first step to that goal is the publication of African-American Athletes in Arkansas book. Either way, I want you to be a part of that journey.