UA Alum Publishes History of African Americans in Arkansas Sports

In African-American Athletes in Arkansas: Muhammad Ali’s Tour, Black Razorbacks & Other Forgotten Stories, alumnus Evin Demirel (BA’05) brings to light a little-known part of Arkansas history.

The journey from his roots in central Arkansas to historian is a bit circular. He went to Central High School in Little Rock, where he said race relations was a common topic discussed in hallways and classrooms. At the U of A, he majored in Classical Studies and taught Latin for a time.

But he got back into doing what he loved most: writing, specifically about public history.

In July, Demirel brought some of his previous essays and features together into African-American Athletes in Arkansas, a 200-page volume he seif-published. Many of the chapters, both previously published and brand new, are about the Razorbacks. “When it comes to sports in Arkansas,” Demirel said, “they are the defining brand, a unifying force for the state.”

He said that on the surface of this unifying force, there seemed to be a total exclusion of African-Americans prior to 1960. “But there were these exceptions to the strict rule of Jim Crow,” he said, “essentially all the time.”

These exceptions, and other important stories about African-
Americans in Arkansas, are often not remembered and little known. “There is a vast disparity in the public records of whites and blacks in Arkansas,” Demirel said.

In his introduction, he says the history of pre-integration African-American communities is vanishing as the people who lived through those times die. To that end, he created heritageofsports.com. One of the site’s purposes is to support an ongoing online project to commemorate people and events relating to sports and race in the South.

He said he wants to inject these “forgotten stories” into the sphere of public history. “I want it to become part of our states history and part of the curriculum at high schools and at the U of A,” he said.

“I don’t see this as the end of something,” he said, “but the start of something.”

The above originally published in the October 2017 issue of Arkansas, an alumni magazine produced by the University of Arkansas.  Delani Bartlette is the author.

The Future of NFL National Anthem Protests & Powerful White Men

The silver lining in filtering dialogue about national anthem kneeling and raised fists through a white perspective.

In today’s episode of Slate’s Hang Up and Listen podcast, host Stefan Fatsis explained the difficulty which modern NFL players find themselves in:

“They’re being asked to figure out a bunch of things — where they stand on racial injustice, freedom of expression, the right to push back against the president, how they feel about the anthem and flag. It puts a lot of unfair pressure on them, and now the way they react is interpreted politically.

If kneeling and raised fists and hands on shoulders diminishes over the subsequent weeks, well, then, people will just say ‘Well the NFL won. These guys are backing down. The players are wrong’ and this… conversation about race and justice gets filtered by how white people think about it.”

The show’s guest, former NFL Films producer Jamil Smith, then points out there’s a silver lining in that.

It’s a good thing, he says, because it means that a conversation about these issues—and the persistent menace of white supremacy in the U.S.—has at least started. The key, Smith says, is to press the issue with powerful white males. It is a minority of such men, after all, who enable white supremacy to fester in the 21st century, after all. And often they will listen to other powerful white males (e.g. NFL owners) more readily than anybody else.

“I think it’s OK it press these guys about the realities that [NFL] teammates have to endure when they leave the locker room. Because when they take those uniforms off, they are big black dudes in big, nice vehicles getting targeted.

And, sorry, it’s not too much to ask those guys to step up, to have an opinion.

You don’t necessarily have to put a hand on a shoulder, to kneel or to speak out. You can say ‘I understand. This is inspiring me to learn more about this issue. I’m trying to become a more educated citizen and I encourage everyone who’s listening to do the same.’

You don’t have to become a freedom fighter—it’s welcome—but you just have to become a more educated citizen. You have to exercise critical thinking and given how smart these guys are—and I know, I’ve interviewed a bunch of them—they can handle that task.