Farewell, Mr. Bates

The folding of the Arkansas State Press in 1959 was a major blow to L. C. Bates. 

He said he probably would have gone crazy if it weren’t for the influence of the group called Moral Rearmament, an organization designed to help bring a positive attitude. Rajamahan Gandi, a friend of Bates, invited him to join the group, which Bates jokingly described as a “high-falutin’ group designed to give capitalists an opportunity to get rid of their guilt by doing good.”

“Raj,” the name Bates called his friend, invited Bates on a retreat with the group, and Bates accepted. After returning from the trip, Bates said:

“I came back a changed man. Instead of being angry with those trying to harm me, I felt sorry for them. I listened to testimonies of various individuals who explained the benefits of love and the ill-effects of hate. I feel sorry for people who hate me, because I know something about me is worrying them. Since I left there, I don’t think I’ve had an ill feeling about anyone.”

Moving on

When the paper folded, Bates once again had to find employment to pay the bills. He was offered the position of public relations director at Central State College in Wilberforce, Ohio, where he had attended as a boy. Bates declined and instead accepted a position as field representative and “troubleshooter” for the NAACP.

He described the job as being “like jumping from the frying pan into the fire,” because he was in far more danger than he had been as an editor.  He spent a lot of time in Haywood and Summerville counties in Tennessee, where blacks had been put off farms after attempting to register to vote. The NAACP felt that Bates was in such danger that they required him to call the national office every two hours to let them know he was still alive.

In addition to working in the field, Bates also served on the committee to help blacks find employment, a lot of the time in state positions where federal money was involved. On many occasions, Bates informed the committee that the average Negro was not used to having the responsibilities demanded by these roles and since they weren’t going to lower employment standards, he asked that they give blacks a chance to make a mistake and an opportunity to perform.

In those years, the committee acknowledged that it would first select the blacks that were active in the civil rights movement to which Bates said,

“We are not concerned with and will not indulge any Negro who has been sitting on his hands and nine times out of 10 has been throwing stumbling blocks in the path of the civil rights program. If it hadn’t been for Negroes and the more liberal-thinking white people throughout the United States, we wouldn’t have the programs we have today. So we want the first consideration to go to the people who helped make these programs possible.”

Bates retired from the NAACP in January 1972, and in 1977 he received public recognition for his role in the civil rights movement. The Theta Sigma chapter of Sigma Gamma Rho sorority honored Bates in the banquet hall of Little Rock’s Camelot Inn. More than 300 people attended, including Deborah Mathis, a black television reporter for KARK Television in Little Rock and a graduate of Central High School years after the integration crisis; Robert W. Scott, a former employee of Bates and later an employee in the printing department at Arkansas Baptist College; and Hugh B. Patterson Jr., publisher of the Arkansas Gazette.

When singing Bates’ praises, Scott made the statement:

“I can truthfully say he practiced exactly what he preached. He helped those that needed help and fought for those things he knew were right. I am grateful for having been one of the persons whose life he has touched . . .”

When it came his turn to speak, Bates told the group that they should not become intoxicated by the recognition and success of the progress in the civil rights movement.

“The days of getting mad are over. Now is the time to get smart so that some day, we may be able to say not that we shall overcome, but that we HAVE overcome.”

Bates passed away on August 22, 1980, at St. Vincent Infirmary in Little Rock following surgery for an aneurism. A memorial service was held at Union American Methodist Episcopal Church, and his close friends, family, and associates, came to honor the fallen hero.

 

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