A few footnotes on David Koon’s report last night that the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center, a tribute to the African-American experience in the state, had been directed by a state department bureaucrat appointed in the Hutchinson administration to remove a Black Lives Matter T-shirt from the museum gift lineup.
* The removal order was blamed on Heritage Department Deputy Director Rebecca Burkes, hired by Department Director Stacy Hurst, a Hutchinson appointee, after she fired two other top officers of the department. Burkes hasn’t returned calls. She should and so should Stacy Hurst. First question: Did the fact that the Little Rock Fraternal Order of Police endorsed Hurst in her unsuccessful Republican race for legislature have anything to do with this decision? The Little Rock police have long been troubled by fraught relationships with the black community, currently in the form of legal action that asserts the department is overly prone to use force against black suspects and that it failed to adequately investigate use of deadly force against blacks by white officers.
* The museum sits at Ninth and Broadway, the scene of Little Rock’s last lynching. The racial violence engendered then is a racial scar on the city unhealed by the passage of 89 years. The Encyclopedia of Arkansas account is here.
* As luck had it, I read an article early this morning in the latest New Yorker on the origins of the Black Lives Matter movement. It is, of course, a response to the shooting of unarmed men by police around the country. But it is also about workers’ rights and gender and sexual orientation equality. Thoughtful people with much substantive to say are working in various ways around the country on these worthy goals. You can read that story here.
How much do black lives matter? When a publicly financed state museum about black lives at the site of Little Rock’s last lynching removes a Black Lives Matters T-shirt for fears that some white people might be offended, I think you have an answer, at least so far as the Arkansas Department of Heritage is concerned. Should Stacy Hurst or Gov. Asa Hutchinson like to disagree and explain, their comments are welcome.
The irony of this addition to the black experience in Arkansas is inescapable.
UPDATE: We’ve received a statement from DAH Communications director Melissa Whitfield. It says:
The t shirts were removed because they are not promoting MTCC specifically or any of its programs or exhibits. All other DAH gift shops, Old State House, Historic Arkansas Museum, and Delta Cultural Center, only sell wearable items with the specific name and museum logo or feature a specific exhibit or program. The store manager positon at MTCC has been open for some time, and this was done in a review of what wearables are currently for sale and keeping that stock in line with their sister museums.
This is a change from what we were told earlier. From David Koon’s original reporting:
Quantia Fletcher, who took over as interim director of the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center, said that the shirts had been for sale in the museum gift shop since around Christmas, but were pulled off the shelves after a conversation with Burkes. Fletcher said that, being a state agency, the museum must represent all Arkansans.
“We understand that everybody doesn’t necessarily agree with the Black Lives Matter movement,” she said. “So even getting the shirts and getting the Black Lives Matter items, we have to think about whether or not it would be an item that was something that may cause people to feel a particular way – whether or not we were being culturally sensitive, and to make sure we’re having items in our store that kind of fit with the mission of the museum, which is to collect and preserve and educate about Arkansas African-American history.”
I’ve asked Whitfield if the statement today is meant to imply that Fletcher was in error.