HARRISON, Ark. – Harrison has a deep-rooted reputation for being one of the most racist towns in the United States. Community members and state officials have been working for years to change that. Now, Dr. Bernice King and the Martin Luther King Jr. Commission along with community leaders hosted a virtual town hall to talk about race relations in Harrison.
As you drive into Harrison, Arkansas a white pride sign is one of the first things you’ll see.
“You have African Americans throughout the state who are afraid to drive through Harrison because they understand it’s a sundown town,” Arkansas Martin Luther King Jr. Commission Chief Executive Officer Deshun Scarbrough said.
The community has been working to change that reputation for years.
“We are absolutely not the perception people have of Harrison, Arkansas,” Mayor Jerry Jackson said.
The city has been working with the Arkansas Martin Luther King Commission. They created a task force focused on race relations and just a few years ago quite literally buried racism. In the blink of an eye, however, that progress was gone when a video of negative reactions to a man holding a Black Lives Matter sign went viral.
“It makes you feel like we fell ten steps backwards,” Scarbrough said.
He believes change starts with education and bringing diversity.
“Bring individuals that look like me to Harrison,” Scarbrough said.
Keith Collins Jr. is an African American man who recently moved to Harrison with some reservations.
“My parents were against me coming because of the reputation Harrison has gotten,” Collins said.
He said ultimately, he wanted to be part of the change.
“Just to show that not everybody is who you say they are,” Collins said.
Since he’s been there, he says the reputation is not what he has experienced. In fact he said he hasn’t experienced racism at all.
“No, I have not. I’ve gotten looks here and there,” Collins said.
Scarbrough said Harrison has taken a lot of steps in the right direction, but all signs of racism need to be wiped clean.
“There’s a lot of work to be done,” Scarbrough said.
The city has also created a committee with nine members. They will meet for 90 days then go to city and county officials with recommendations on how to improve race relations and the town’s reputation. The virtual town hall will air November 5th.