Letter of Transmittal
the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
of the Commission
Mary Frances Berry, Chairperson
Cruz Reynoso, Vice Chairperson
Christopher F. Edley, Jr.
Yvonne Y. Lee
Elsie M. Meeks
Russell G. Redenbaugh
Les Jin, Staff Director
The Arkansas Advisory Committee submits this report, Who Is Enforcing Civil Rights in Arkansas: Is There a Need for a State Civil Rights Agency? As part of its responsibility to advise the Commission on civil rights issues in Arkansas, the Advisory Committee on September 23–24, 1998, held a fact-finding meeting to obtain information regarding the need for a state civil rights enforcement agency. The Committee heard from more than 27 persons representing federal, state, and local governments, civil rights groups, community and religious organizations, and concerned citizens.
During the course of the Advisory Committee’s background investigation and fact-finding meeting, it became clear that there is a need for a state civil rights enforcement agency to deal with discrimination complaints. Although the state has a civil rights law (Arkansas Civil Rights Act of 1993), it is not substantially equivalent to applicable federal civil rights laws, rules, and regulations.
Based on information presented, the Advisory Committee believes that it is urgent the State Legislature of Arkansas amend the Arkansas Civil Rights Act of 1993 to make it substantially equivalent to federal laws. In doing so, the act should also be amended to establish a human rights agency to address civil rights disputes and issues within the state. A state human rights agency may bring many benefits such as faster case processing; an opportunity for education and training in civil rights; and a vehicle for effective and efficient administration of civil rights laws.
The Advisory Committee further found that although representatives of the business community say there is a sizable group of skilled and aggressive civil rights attorneys in the state, this remains to be seen. The Committee found that many persons in the state are often unaware of who to contact or where to file discrimination complaints.
The Advisory Committee recommends that the Arkansas Bar Association and other legal institutions develop a list of attorneys who specialize in or will accept civil rights cases. This list should be distributed to relevant community and civil rights organizations as well as the general public. The Central Regional Office has developed a “Where to Turn Guide for Civil Rights Assistance,” which may also be distributed and used by the general public.
The Advisory Committee notes that most persons interviewed for this report did not know that there are state civil rights protections. The Committee recommends that concerted efforts be made statewide to establish meaningful coalitions to address civil rights and race relations. A strong liaison with a wide range of community organizations such as the local chambers of commerce, churches, civic organizations, and civil rights groups must be initiated.
Finally, there appears to be a lack of coordinated leadership efforts at all levels with respect to civil rights and race relations in Arkansas. The Advisory Committee urges the governor to take the lead in establishing constructive dialogue on race relations and civil rights in the state. Clearly, with the surge of Hispanic and Asian populations in Arkansas, the state will have to become proactive on civil and human rights to address the needs and interests of its diverse citizenry. This should include a statement on the governor’s vision for reducing discrimination and building bridges of understanding among different groups.
The Advisory Committee urges the Commission to assist it in follow-up activities to the report.
Katherine P. Mitchell, Chairperson
Arkansas Advisory Committee