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I sensed the picture might be worth at least 800 words, the usual length of this column.

The photograph appeared on the front page of this newspaper Thursday. It showed beaming smiles and a warm embrace between a tall, older white man and a short, younger black woman.

They were state representatives bidding a plainly warm farewell on the last day of an often-contentious legislative session.

I recalled the time I published a column containing both their names--Jon Eubanks, a 69-year-old Republican from Paris in west-central Arkansas, and Jamie Scott, a 37-year-old Democrat from North Little Rock.

It happened March 3 in an angry essay titled "The South rose again."

A bill by Rep. Charles Blake of Little Rock seeking to re-designate a Confederacy-honoring star on the state flag as a commemoration of Native Americans had been voted down by the House State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee. White neo-confederates had testified about the need to keep honoring the "war for Southern independence."

Blake explained that the star had been added in the early 1900s when the Ku Klux Klan raged and Jim Crow laws essentially extended enslavement. An absolute massacre of black people at Elaine went unprosecuted and under-reported.

I wrote that it was understandable that Scott, sitting there as the lone African American committee member amid a band of Confederacy-sympathizing white colleagues, was reduced to tears. I called out by name the "no" voters, including those effectively voting "no" by not voting. Eubanks was in the latter group.

Now there they were, Scott and Eubanks, on the front page, hugging, smiling, saying goodbye.

I got on the phone with them, first Scott and then Eubanks.

"The reason I cried that day was that we'd been hearing so much in the Black Caucus about the Elaine massacre and the Wrightsville 21," Scott told me. The Wrightsville 21 refers to young black males burned to death in 1959 by a still-mysterious circumstance.

"Then to be sitting there with these men talking about the need to honor those times--it just welled up in me," Scott said.

She said Eubanks reached out to her that day, saying he was troubled by her visible pain and wanted to understand.

"He and I just decided that day, I think, to work at being friends, and that's what happened," Scott said. "I'm Pentecostal and he's Mormon, but my sister is Mormon, and we kind of built from that, I guess."

What came of it, she said, is warm personal regard that might, in time, bring them together on a public policy in a way that wouldn't have been possible without the forging of a personal relationship. It's not about changing philosophies, but sharpening sensitivities, she said.

She said she'd sought to establish other friendships with white male Republican colleagues. She found it good that several of them felt a need to seek her out to explain that their resistance to a bill choosing Daisy Bates and Johnny Cash as the state's new honorees in Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol had to do with Cash and seeming dictates from the Senate, not the civil rights icon Bates.

She said two white Republican House members--Doug House and Andy Davis--told her they were working on bills likely to emerge next session to change the declared symbolism of the state flag more broadly.

I then called Eubanks and told him that the newspaper photograph had intrigued me. He laughed heartily.

I related Scott's account of their relationship and he said, "I'd say pretty much exactly what she said. I wanted to understand. And I think I do better understand now. And I had the pleasure of getting to know a very sweet person."

Eubanks grew up in a newly integrated high school in Annapolis, Md. He said that, not being from Arkansas, he didn't know the early-1900s state history.

He said he'd forged a similar relationship with an African American male legislator, Eddie Armstrong of Little Rock. He said he had visited the Marianna School District with Rep. Reginald Murdock, who is black, and developed a better understanding of Murdock's education views.

I'd be remiss if not reporting that, when Blake revised the flag bill, Eubanks--friend of Scott or no--voted, this time, "no" outright. He told me the bill was doomed and that he'd gone along with his party mates, which one must do sometimes. But he sounded mildly rueful of the circumstance, at least.

Now, a bit sadly, Eubanks has decided not to run again. He cited entirely personal factors--his age and that his wife wants to travel to visit their four children who are scattered across the country.

But that photograph can live on as a healthier symbol than a star on the state flag.


John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at [email protected] Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

Editorial on 04/16/2019

Print Headline: Better understanding

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