Paul Greenberg

For example, there was the bill to create a State Sovereignty Commission, a star chamber that would crack down on anyone brave enough to defy the segs. This modern inquisition was given power to subpoena witnesses and records, and summon anyone to appear in closed session. The bill setting up the commission passed the House 88 to 1.

Another bill, clearly aimed at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and other uppity outfits, required that such organizations turn over their membership rolls and financial records at the demand of this new Sovereignty Commission. The proposal passed the House 89 to 1.

In both those cases, the lone dissenting vote was cast by a young representative from Hot Springs named Ray S. Smith Jr. The next year, when Orval Faubus was given the power to close the public schools, that outrageous bill passed the House 94 to 1.

Again, the single vote in opposition was cast by Ray Smith. The names of those who voted for it have been largely forgotten, consigned to a kind of merciful oblivion. It was the lone dissenter, Ray Smith, who on his death last week at 83, who would be remembered as a hero.

Ray Smith did Arkansas proud — even if he had to do it alone. His solitary stand against all the febrile forces that pushed Arkansas over the edge in the Furious Fifties could be ranked with the prophetic Isaac Murphy’s lone vote against secession in 1861. On that fateful day, a lady in the gallery threw a bouquet at his feet when that giant in his time took his stand for the Union; the flowers for Ray Smith would come only later, when it became clearer how foresighted he had been.

Ray Smith’s simple courage as a young man in the 1950s would mature over the years into perspective, temperance and wisdom. But always, it would be his singular votes in that time of testing that would be remembered, and honored.

There were indeed giants in the earth in those days. And when the next moment of truth arrives for this state, or this country, their names will be invoked. For the Ray Smiths leave us not only with the memory of their courage at a decisive moment in the past, but a shining example for the future.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.