The life and accomplishments of Arkansas civil rights leader William "Sonny" Walker will be recounted and celebrated at a panel discussion Thursday at 6 p.m. at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff's Hathaway-Howard Fine Arts Center.
The life and accomplishments of Arkansas civil rights leader William “Sonny” Walker will be recounted and celebrated at a panel discussion Thursday at 6 p.m. at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff’s Hathaway-Howard Fine Arts Center.
The discussion will be moderated by Arkansas Martin Luther King Commission Chairman Phil Kaplan, who will be joined by Walker, civil rights activist Ozell Sutton and UAPB Chancellor Lawrence A. Davis Jr.
The panel discussion, which is free and open to the public, will feature filmed excerpts from an oral history conducted with Walker by The HistoryMakers, a national educational institution that records video histories with prominent African-Americans.
Walker’s life spans the civil rights movement in Arkansas. Among his other accomplishments, Walker helped prepare the “Little Rock Nine” for their integration into Little Rock Central High School, managed the first successful campaign of T.E. Patterson, the first black school board member in Little Rock, and successfully integrated the Arkansas State Police and Little Rock Jaycees.
He was appointed by then-Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller as the first African-American in the South to hold a cabinet level position as head of the Arkansas State Economic Opportunity Office. He also served as the executive director of the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta, and founded The Sonny Walker Group, a management consulting and networking firm, also based in Atlanta.
Other members of the panel bring a rich history of civil rights activism to the discussion. Ozell Sutton was present at events such as the 1957 Central High School desegregation crisis and the 1965 march at Selma, Ala. In April 1968, he was within a room next to Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. when King was murdered on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. Sutton was also a trailblazer in Arkansas race relations, becoming the first black newspaper reporter to work for a white-owned newspaper when he went to work in 1950 as a staff writer for the Arkansas Democrat.
Davis comes from a family prominent in the civil rights movement. Davis’ commitment to the cause began with his father, and continues as the leader of UAPB. His father, Lawrence A. Davis served as president and chancellor for UAPB from 1943-1974 and was responsible for expanding academic programs and changing the organizational structure of the institution.
Moderator Phil Kaplan is a prominent Little Rock attorney who advised Governor Winthrop Rockefeller on civil rights.
The panel is part of a year-long series of events celebrating the contributions and impact of Governor Winthrop Rockefeller during the 100th anniversary of his birth.
A staunch supporter of the civil rights movement, Rockefeller was the first Arkansas leader to place African-Americans in critical roles in state government. In 2012, the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute, the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, Winrock International, the Winthrop Rockefeller Charitable Trust, the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, the Central Arkansas Library System, and the Arkansas Arts Center, all organizations that benefitted from Winthrop Rockefeller’s activism and philanthropy, will offer a variety of programs to honor his legacy by convening thought leaders from Arkansas and the nation to discuss critical issues, including civil rights, government reform and philanthropy, among other issues.
(For a complete agenda and more information, go to www.wr100.org or call Amy Stockton at 501-727-6265.) The Winthrop Rockefeller Centennial Celebration is generously supported by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, The Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, Winthrop Rockefeller Charitable Trust, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, and Mangan Holcomb Partners.