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Arkansas's new statues at the U.S. Capitol are of Daisy Bates and Johnny Cash

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Now a shake-up in the U.S. Capitol but one that might make you tap your toes.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GET RHYTHM")

JOHNNY CASH: (Singing) Hey, get rhythm when you get the blues. Come on, get rhythm when you get the blues.

SIMON: The Man in Black, Johnny Cash. The sculpture of the fabled singer's coming this year to Statuary Hall, the room at the U.S. Capitol where each state gets two statues to represent a couple of their finest citizens. Johnny Cash will join civil rights activist Daisy Bates, whose 7 1/2-foot bronze statue was installed at the Capitol this week. Johnny Cash and Daisy Bates replace Senator James P. Clarke and the lawyer Uriah Rose, who was first president of the American Bar Association.

ASA HUTCHINSON: Both of those individuals are not ones that mean anything to contemporary Americans.

SIMON: And that's Asa Hutchinson, the former governor of Arkansas. He became familiar with Clarke and Rose when he was a member of Congress.

HUTCHINSON: As I took individuals from Arkansas and across the country on a tour of the Capitol, I would point them to the statutes representing Arkansas, and they just shrugged their shoulder. And of course, if you dig deep into their history, they do have a racist history that is not reflective at all of Arkansas.

SIMON: The state legislature passed a bill in 2019 to swap out the statues. Asa Hutchinson was governor of Arkansas then and happy to sign it.

HUTCHINSON: I was thrilled with Daisy Bates because I've studied that history. I know the courage it took for her to work with the Little Rock Nine to desegregate Central High School. And every day as governor, I would look out my window, and I'd see the Little Rock Nine statutes that are outside the governor's window.

SIMON: Daisy Bates co-founded the Arkansas State Press, a weekly Black newspaper focused on the Civil Rights Movement. She also spoke at the March on Washington in 1963.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DAISY BATES: But your presence here today testifies that no child will have to walk alone through a mob in any city or hamlet of this country because you will be there walking with them. Thank you.

KEVIN KRESSE: I love the fact that it's changing to represent America in a broader way and not just the power politicians from the early 1800s or whatever.

SIMON: That's Kevin Kresse. He's the Little Rock sculptor selected to sculpt Johnny Cash, the first professional musician in Statuary Hall. And Kresse is a Johnny Cash fan.

KRESSE: I think the honesty of his work, the truth in his lyrics and the simplicity and straightforward way of getting that message across just spoke to me as an artist as well.

SIMON: And those words, says the sculptor, should inspire the politicians who work in the Capitol.

KRESSE: One of the quotes that the family gave me was something that he told his kids. It's about the fact that we all have the ability to make a choice in this life between choosing love or choosing hate. And he says, I choose love. And I love that message for people going through, that they can take that aspect of Johnny, that we all remember we have the ability to choose love.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ARKANSAS LOVIN' MAN")

CASH: (Singing) I've got a natural talent for loving, and I'm going to spread it around.

SIMON: Kevin Kresse's statue of Johnny Cash is scheduled to arrive at the U.S. Capitol in September.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ARKANSAS LOVIN' MAN")

CASH: I'm a natural, actual, real, authentical Arkansas loving man. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.