By BLANTON MATTHEWS | The Arkadelphian
Saturday evening, the Clark County NAACP held their 31st annual Freedom Fund Banquet in the Garrison Center on the campus of Henderson State University. Dozens of “freedom fighters” filled the Banquet Room on the second floor to fellowship and hear from state Senator Stephanie Flowers (D-25).
The theme for the night, correlating with similar NAACP events nationwide, was “…This is Power.” After an introduction by master of ceremonies Reverend Kyle Jones of Munn’s Chapel, the banquet opened with Herman Thomas singing “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” also referred to as the “negro national anthem,” and an invocation from Rev. Johnny Harris of Mount Canaan Baptist Church. There was plenty more music through the evening, provided by Karla Steel, who sang twice. Her first song was “Rise Up” originally by Andra Day, and later after the keynote address she sang CeCe Winans’ “Believe For It.”
Several local elected officials and candidates up for election on November 8 were present. Those running opposed were given a brief moment each to speak and ask for votes and support, including Vanilla Hannah (JP 4), Michael Ankton (JP 2), Zach Bledsoe (JP 1), Tina Johnson (county clerk), and Zack Garrett (constable).
The Clark County Democratic Party made a strong showing, filling two tables. Among them were former state Representatives Tommy and Johnnie Roebuck.
Flowers’ speech, titled after the aforementioned negro national anthem, appropriately dove into the history of the hymn as a poem by James Weldon Johnson, originally set to music by his brother John Rosamond Johnson. The song, she said, serves as a reminder of the need for every voice to be heard, such as through voting.
Flowers also discussed post-Civil War Reconstruction efforts and subsequent gains made being reversed through segregation and systemic racism. She pointed to the 85 black state legislators that served Arkansas from 1868 until 1893. “Then there was a void,” and no black people held state legislative office again until 1973. Pictures of these legislators were on plastic rulers set at every table seat. “We must never forget the journey, lest we are seen as acquiescing,” she said, and urged people to vote to make change. “We are not satisfied… Vote for those with the best interests of all people, not just a certain party.”
Also in her speech, Flowers noted her ties to Henderson through her son, Deputy Aviation Director William Flowers at the Colorado Air and Space Port, who graduated in 2014.
In his closing remarks, Clark County NAACP president Bruce Bell honored his late predecessor Henry Wilson, who served 23 years in the position, “A long, long time.” Bell also criticized the Economic Development Corp. of Clark County. He alleged that the EDCCC promised tax incentives from the recently enacted half-cent sales tax would be available to retail and service businesses, where such incentives from previous taxes went only to manufacturing businesses. “99% of black businesses are in service and retail, not manufacturing,” he said, “not one black person got any tax money.” He expressed his disappointment that after being led to expect different results, nothing changed.
Two awards were given: Magaenus Davis, Jr. was awarded the Youth Leadership Award, and Tina Johnson the Community Service Award. Door prizes were also awarded, including gift cards to Walmart, oil changes, and jars of homemade jam and sorghum.