It's become my belief that if one keeps pounding at the gate to the Tabernacle of Truth long and hard enough, with enough determination, it finally will be answered.
And those doors finally did swing wide open the other day during Gov. Sarah Sanders' Martin Luther King Interfaith Prayer Breakfast held at the Governor's Mansion.
That's where a roomful of state dignitaries, politicians and citizens witnessed evidence of what I've been bullhorning from high in the Ozarks for years: My hometown of Harrison is anything but a racist community, despite what most of the media has continued to shout to the world for years.
Writing in the Arkansas Times Blog (strangely, the only place I've seen this relevant information published), Griffin Coop did an admirable job of covering this, especially when it comes to emphasizing deeper meanings behind the event: Tolerance, peaceful co-existence, brotherly love.
I realize, because of human nature, someone born here with all the emotional ties and connections might carry lesser credibility. But who knows a community's heart better that one who is, and has always been, part of it?
Certainly no one flitting in and quickly out of the city limits with a calculated, self-serving agenda quoting ancient history. Certainly no one who ignores the fact this community has received the state Martin Luther King Jr. Commission's "Dream Keepers Award" for its work in race relations, and is home to our state's magnificent Black Miss Arkansas who spoke during the prayer breakfast.
At the breakfast, however, the "most impactful" message overall, as described in Coop's blog article, "was the story of Harrison, the north Arkansas city of about 13,000 that has been dubbed by some as the most racist town in America."
Mayor Jerry Jackson has worked closely with commission executive director DeShun Scarbrough and the MLK commission to improve Harrison's reputation. Jackson, Coop reported, "said the town's bad reputation started when infamous segregationist Thomas Robb moved to Zinc, about 20 miles outside Harrison, and purchased a Harrison mailbox for his mailing address."
That, of course, meant the mail sent to Robb looked as if it were bound for a Harrison residence.
Also, some unidentified person fueled the image by leasing a "white pride" billboard greeting motorists on the outskirts of town. Others quickly erected a competing billboard advocating tolerance and love.
Following the death of George Floyd, a YouTuber flew into Harrison, held up a Black Lives Matter poster, and turned on his video camera outside the Walmart store that services customers from surrounding counties. His video, which racked up 5 million views on YouTube, showed 24 unknown passersby over a day yelling "disgusting" things, Jackson said. He was only able to track down three of those people, and he received hate-filled emails and phone messages.
"Last year," Coop reported, "another YouTuber visited Harrison on a quest to find the most racist town in America. The YouTuber JiDion visited Jackson in his office and told him that Harrison was nothing like he had expected."
His video shows him being warmly greeted by white students at a Harrison school. "For the so-called most-racist town, this is the town I've gotten the most love from," JiDion said to the group in the video. That story drew 10 million views on YouTube.
During my career I've lived and worked at papers in cities across six states. Over that time, I've seen, recognized and written lots about racism and intolerance on many levels. I believe I know it when I see it and don't mind pointing it out when I do.
That said, I repeat what I have so many times about Harrison and the terribly unfair image that has been painted of this community of wonderful people that cared enough to establish an active Task Force on Race Relations that addresses any issues that might arise.
After returning home by choice in 2015, I began regularly speaking with people of color who also choose to call Harrison home. Those included Black, Hispanic, and Native Americans, as well as the first Black homecoming king chosen three years ago at North Arkansas College. Granted, there isn't an abundance of minorities who choose to live here. But there certainly are enough to know what life for them is like here.
I've yet to meet one who tells me they feel discriminated against because of their skin color. They might explain problems in their jobs, life and family, some of which could carry occasional racial undertones, but nothing about flagrant racism as some continually seek to portray.
Do any of us really believe every community doesn't have some residents who are bigoted in their twisted views of others, including those of their own race? Ever hear, or use, the term "white trash"? That's a far cry from saying that person's community shares their personal views, or is racist, much less the "most racist" town in America.
Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist, was editor of three Arkansas dailies and headed the master's journalism program at Ohio State University. Email him at [email protected]