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Stone heroes

Monuments bloom on Capitol grounds.

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Money is being collected for another monument on the state Capitol grounds, the Arkansas Fallen Firefighters Memorial (affmemorial@comcast.net). It’s hoped that work will begin in 2008, according to project chairman Johnny Reep, but that depends on whether supporters of the AFFM have raised the full $1.1 million cost of the memorial. The state Arts and Grounds Commission, which oversees such projects, has approved the Firefighters Memorial, but requires full funding before any digging is allowed on the Capitol grounds. The monument will be on the west mall, in front of the Big Mac Building.

A dozen monuments and markers can be found on the Capitol grounds already. The oldest, the Monument to Confederate Soldiers, was installed on the northeast corner of the grounds in 1905. The newest, “Testament,” is a tribute to the nine black high school students who integrated Central High in 1957. It was installed on the north mall in August 2005. Already on the north mall, a fairly small area, was the American Revolution Bicentennial Monument, which includes a replica of the Liberty Bell.

The pace of monument-building has stepped up in recent years. The same thing has happened in Washington, where the number of monuments has reached the point that some fear the grounds of the National Capitol are being cluttered. It’s part of the state Arts and Grounds Commission’s job to avoid crowding on the Arkansas Capitol grounds. The secretary of state (now Charlie Daniels) is the chairman of the commission. Other members are department heads and private citizens. The commission says yes or no — mostly yes — to projects that will be built entirely with private funding. Some projects involve state assistance. In those cases, legislative approval is required also, in the form of an appropriation of state funds.

A longtime Capitol watcher can recall one proposed monument that was never built. When J. Bill Becker, now deceased, was president of the Arkansas State AFL-CIO, he suggested a monument to Arkansas’s working men and women who’d died on the job. Legislative approval was required. The legislators didn’t give it. Becker may have thought the workers’ monument would have provided balance to the American Legion memorial on the grounds. The Legion in its early days was known for union-busting.

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