|Updated: 11/20/2012 10:07 pm
||Published: 11/20/2012 2:55 pm
LITTLE ROCK, AR – Civil rights attorney Christopher Mercer died at the age of 88 at his home in Little Rock Tuesday morning.
An NAACP field secretary during the 1950's and 1960's, Mercer was an advisor to civil rights activist Daisy Bates, playing a vital supporting role to the Little Rock Nine, the group of African-American students who integrated Central High School in 1957.
Mercer was one of six students who integrated the University of Arkansas School of Law, passing the bar exam the same year of the Supreme Court's decision in Brown vs. the Board of Education.
Mercer drove five of the Little Rock Nine to school that fateful year in 1957 and 1958.
Brian Schwieger is a park guide at the Central High School National Historic Site, and knows the Mercer family personally. "If you ask any of the 8 who are still living their memory of him they all looked up to him and have amazing things to say about him. Recently at our 50th anniversary of integration I spoke with one of the 9 specifically and her memories of him are as if they were yesterday."
Schwieger says Mercer serving as an advisor and friend to civil rights activist Daisy bates played a key role during the Central High Desegregation Crisis. "He's the lynch pin legally for this to happen in Arkansas. If he isn't able to make this successful, if he doesn't have the connections and the knowledge, this may never get off the ground. Who knows how different our story is going to be without his expertise."
In July of 2012, Mercer received his name on a bronze plaque placed on the sidewalk outside the Statehouse Convention Center in honor of his service and sacrifice to the civil rights era.
UALR professor and Chair of the History Department John Kirk says Mercer was a mentor, and aide, and an advisor who should be remembered for his important contribution to American History. "There are so few people now around who can remember those days as vividly as he did. Memory of those days is fading fast, unfortunately."
Mercer was also the first black man named to be a deputy prosecutor in a southern state. Born in Pine Bluff in 1924, he graduated what is now the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff in 1946. While still an undergraduate, he taught at Corbin High School and coached basketball. In 2011, Mercer received the Silas Hunt Legacy Award recognizing African-Americans for their achievements and contributions.
He is survived by numerous friends and family. Funeral arrangements will be made in Arkadelphia.
University of Arkansas Mourns Death of Civil Rights Activist Christopher Mercer
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Christopher C. Mercer, one of the six students who integrated the University of Arkansas School of Law, died Tuesday morning, Nov. 20, in Little Rock.
“Jane and I are saddened by the news of C.C. Mercer’s death,” said U of A Chancellor G. David Gearhart. “We had known him for many, many years and always had the utmost respect for him. He was an outstanding leader and advocate, a great Arkansan and a much loved member of the Razorback community. He will long be remembered and celebrated as one of our most influential alumni. We extend our heartfelt sympathies to his family and salute C.C. for his life of service to others.”
Mercer was the first African American in the South to serve as a deputy state prosecutor and practiced law for more than 58 years, often representing clients of modest means. He was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the university in May 2011 and received the Silas Hunt Legacy Award in April 2012.
“This is a profound loss for the law school community and the legal profession," said Stacy Leeds, dean of the School of Law. “Mr. Mercer set the perfect example of a lawyer as community leader and public servant. His life is marked by hard work and immeasurable sacrifices, yet he never sought anything in return -- he simply gave.”
Mercer was born in Pine Bluff in 1924 and was one of the law school’s “Six Pioneers,” the first six African American students to enroll at University of Arkansas School of Law. During his time in law school, he supported himself by teaching biology, chemistry and math classes including a business class for veterans at Carver High School in Marked Tree.
After graduating from the law school in 1955 and passing the bar exam with the highest score in his group, Mercer went on to play an integral part in the legal community and in the civil rights struggle in the state of Arkansas. He was a pivotal figure in the integration of Little Rock Central High School, serving as aide-de-camp for Daisy Bates and transporting the “Little Rock Nine” to and from school each day their first semester. In addition, he was a member of the Arkansas Council on Human Relations and served as the Arkansas field secretary for the NAACP.
“C.C. Mercer’s grace, persistence and good humor set the standard for me,” said Cynthia E. Nance, dean emeritus of the School of Law. “The sacrifices he and the pioneers made paved the way for a more diverse legal profession. I aspire to live up to his example of excellence. I will miss his incredible support and friendship.”