It is with a heavy heart that I write this message. Former Senator Dale Bumpers, a giant in Arkansas politics passed away on Friday. Dale was a dear friend, and I will miss him. Dale’s accomplishments are too numerous to list here, but among the most significant were his work as an attorney to successfully, and peacefully desegregate the Charleston, Arkansas school district years before Central High became a national headline, his work as Governor to make kindergarten universally available to every child in Arkansas, as well as making textbooks free to Arkansas’s school children.
At this time, my thoughts and prayers are with the Bumpers family and the Democratic Party of Arkansas offers our heartfelt sympathies for the loss of this transformative figure in our political history. His legacy has made a lasting impression–in Arkansas as governor, and nationally as U.S. Senator. His good works as a lawyer and public servant are innumerable.
Dale was born in Charleston, Arkansas, one of the two county seats in Franklin County. He attended Charleston Public Schools where he met his schoolmate and would-be wife, Betty Lou. As a U. S. Marine, he served in the Pacific theater in World War II. After his discharge in 1946, he came back home to Arkansas to finish his degree. He graduated from the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville with a BA in political science and went on to earn his law degree from Northwestern University in 1951.
Along the way, he married Betty Lou. When he graduated from law school, Dale once again came back home to Arkansas and was admitted to the Arkansas Bar, practicing law and running his father’s store in Charleston. It was here that Dale made his first real mark on local history. The Charleston School Board asked Dale for advice on how to respond to the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision in which the U.S. Supreme Court determined that public school segregation was unconstitutional. Dale suggested the school board comply immediately. Charleston Schools took Dale’s advice and in 1954 eleven African-American children were enrolled, making it the first school district in eleven southern states to integrate following the Supreme Court decision.
His accomplishments in Arkansas were many. As governor, Dale reorganized our state government and increased teacher salaries. He created a consumer protection division in the attorney general’s office, expanded the state park system and improved social services for our elderly and the disabled. With his legislation, Arkansas developed a state-supported kindergarten program and made school textbooks free to Arkansas students for the first time. Remember friends, these are a just a few of the many ways Dale made Arkansas a better place.
As our U.S. Senator for twenty-four years, Dale was chairman and senior minority member of the Committee on Small Business and served on the Senate Appropriations Committee and the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. He was known for his support of environmental legislation and the National Park System.
During his political career, he defeated Orval Faubus, J. William Fullbright, Winthrop Rockefeller, Mike Huckabee and Asa Hutchinson by large margins
Today, Arkansas mourns the loss of a great man whose good deeds will forever continue to benefit us all.
Chairman, Democratic Party of Arkansas