W. Harold Flowers
Human Rights Activist | Class of 2004
William Harold Flowers was a lawyer, minister, social and political activist, and one of the leading figures in the civil rights movement in Arkansas in the 1940s. He was the first African-American special circuit judge in Jefferson County and a president of the African-American National Bar Association. He was also active in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in the state and the NAACP State Conference of Branches.
Born on October 16, 1911, in Stamps, Arkansas, W. Harold Flowers was the eldest of the three sons of Alonza (often spelled Alonzo) Williams Flowers, Jr., a businessman, and Beulah Lee Sampson, a schoolteacher.
In 1927 on a trip to Little Rock to visit his father, Flowers witnessed the lynching of John Carter; he resolved then to fight for civil rights. He enrolled in the Robert H. Terrell Law School in Washington, D.C., and later passed the Arkansas Bar examination in 1935. He set up a law practice in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, in 1938. He married Margaret J. O. Brown, and the couple had nine children.
Throughout the 1940s, Flowers was the leading advocate for civil rights in Arkansas. He set up the Committee on Negro Organizations (CNO) in Stamps on March 10, 1940, to coordinate voter registration campaigns in the state. As a result of his efforts, the number of eligible black voters in Arkansas rose from 1.5 percent in 1940 to 17.3 percent by 1947. When the NAACP set up an Arkansas State Conference of Branches in 1945, Flowers was appointed as its chief recruitment officer. He also served as president of the NAACP branch in Pine Bluff.
In a 1947 case, Flowers won a landmark victory in the courts by winning death sentence commutations for two brothers accused of killing two white men. The victory was partly due to the fact that he demanded and was granted the appointment of black jurors, who served for the first time in the county since Reconstruction.
In February 1948, Flowers was instrumental in desegregating the University of Arkansas (U of A) Law School in Fayetteville when he served as chief counsel to Silas H. Hunt, the first successful black applicant. Later that year, Flowers was elected as president of the NAACP State Conference of Branches. In 1949, Flowers sued to equalize school facilities for black and white children in DeWitt, Arkansas, thereby paving the way for school desegregation cases in the state after the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas in 1954.
In the 1950s, Flowers’s civil rights leadership was eclipsed by friends and protégés, such as Daisy Bates and Wiley A. Branton. Nevertheless, he remained an important and influential figure in Arkansas. In 1953, he served as president of the African-American National Bar Association. He was ordained as a United Methodist minister in 1971 and remained active in the church until his death. In 1977, Flowers became the first black special circuit judge in Jefferson County. In 1980, Governor Bill Clinton appointed him as an associate justice on the state court of appeals. A year later, the Arkansas Black Lawyers’ Association was renamed the W. Harold Flowers Law Society in his honor.
Flowers died on April 7, 1990, in Pine Bluff and is buried in Forest Lawn Memorial Gardens there.