Dr. Mary Louise Williams, a friend of Daisy Bates, speaks at the Daisy Bates House on Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2020, in Little Rock. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Thomas Metthe)
Civil rights leader Daisy Gatson Bates will be honored with a scholarship for students in her hometown and improvements to her former home in Little Rock, officials announced Wednesday.
Bates, a champion of the nine Black students who desegregated Little Rock Central High School in 1957, died in 1999. Wednesday marked her 106th birthday, said Charles King, president of the Daisy Bates House Museum Foundation.
A $35,000 gift from West Fraser, a North American forestry company that has a sawmill in Bates’ south Arkansas hometown of Huttig, will fund the construction of a fence to protect the back of Bates’ former home in Little Rock, King said.
The house, on West 28th Street, is considered a national historic landmark by the National Park Service, and before the coronavirus pandemic, it was open to the public as the L.C. and Daisy Bates Museum. The house served as a safe place for the students desegregating Central High to prepare for school and return to afterward.
“This is a very special day for the Daisy Bates house,” King said. “We would live in a very different world had there not been the activities at 1207 W. 28th St.”
Separately, West Fraser and two of its executives are funding $4,000 in annual scholarships for students in Bates’ hometown district, the Strong-Huttig School District in Union County. The company will contribute $2,000 annually, and executives Sean McLaren and Chester Fort will contribute another $1,000 each.
The scholarships will be geared toward students who want to become educators, because education was Bates’ focus as an activist.
Strong-Huttig Superintendent Kimberly Thomas said she hoped the scholarship funding will serve as an incentive for students to continue their learning in the consolidated district, which has an enrollment of fewer than 300 and has to apply for a waiver from the state each year to continue operating.
“The children there are growing up in very similar circumstances to what she grew up in, so they can take some pride in seeing the legacy,” Thomas said.