Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR) was the subject of a brutal headline on Tuesday from a conservative website, which obtained a copy of his college thesis and suggested that he had opposed federal desegregation in Arkansas in the 1950s.
The Washington Free Beacon didn’t specifically make that assertion, but it highlighted a portion of his 1985 thesis and implied as much — the headline read, “Arkansas Democrat Mark Pryor: Desegregation an ‘Unwilling Invasion.’”
A fairer reading of the thesis, in context, is that Pryor was describing — and condemning — the mentality underlying Arkansas’s rebellion against the federal intervention, which sought to bring down racial barriers and put an end to the Jim Crow era.
Transitioning from an analogy about “outside friction” brought on in the Soviet Union, Pryor wrote, “Arkansas has been invaded unwillingly twice. Once in reality and once figuratively. The Civil War provided the real invasion. When the smoke had cleared, the state was forced to change its ways. The figurative invasion took place in 1957 at Little Rock Central high School. That event took a local problem out of the local authorities’ hands. The federal government had again forced its will on the people of Arkansas.”
Sounds bad, right?
A few sentences later, Pryor pointedly rebuked the mentality he described, characterizing it as self-defeating and an “embarrassing escapade.”
“Today, Arkansas still bears scars from the 1957 crisis. It is evidence that the state had an isolationist attitude. Although Jim Crow was dying and the South’s blacks were destined to improve their lot, the State’s governor refused to allow the state to integrate its largest high school,” Pryor wrote. “But, for the sake of self-identity and a lingering state’s rights attitude, Arkansas trudged through an embarrassing escapade that marred our character and reputation greatly.”
Pryor campaign spokesman Erik Dorey slammed the Free Beacon’s piece as “a complete hack job” and labeled the online outlet a “[j]unk tabloid.”
“Nobody has done more than Mark to honor the heroism of the Little Rock Nine and their courageous stand for integration, or to spotlight this embarrassing episode in our state’s history,” Dorey said. “Junk tabloids can manipulate Mark’s words, but they can’t change the fact that he personally secured the funding for the National Park Service museum at Central High School.”