Annie M. Abrams
Human Rights Activist | Class of 2010
Annie Abrams is a retired educator and a political, social, civic, and community activist in Little Rock, Arkansas. She led the campaigns to rename various Little Rock streets in honor of local and national trailblazers. Abrams was also instrumental in the institution of Little Rock’s first Martin Luther King, Jr., Day parade.
Annie Mable McDaniel was born on September 25, 1931, in Arkadelphia, Arkansas. She is the eldest of four children born to Queen Victoria Annie Katherine Reed. McDaniel’s father died when she was eighteen months old, and she was reared with the help of her grandfather James Arnold.
McDaniel attended Peake School, the segregated school in Arkadelphia, until the age of thirteen. In 1944, her mother sent her to Little Rock to pursue a better education. While in Little Rock, she lived with her cousin Louise Denton, whose husband was Herbert Denton, the principal of Stephens Elementary. McDaniel graduated from Dunbar High School in 1950 and enrolled in Dunbar Junior College, where she majored in education. After she graduated in 1952 with full licensure in education, she was offered a scholarship to the prestigious Brandeis University in Massachusetts. Due to her financial circumstances, she was unable to attend and had to forfeit the scholarship.
McDaniel relocated to Marianna, Arkansas, to teach at the segregated three-room elementary school. She remained there until 1956, when she accepted a position with the Arkansas Teachers Association (ATA), an activist organization instituted to support equality for black teachers in Arkansas. She married Orville Abrams upon her return to Little Rock; they had four children. She later enrolled in Philander Smith College on a part-time basis and graduated in 1962 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in special education. Her husband suffered a massive stroke in 1970 and died in 2000.
Annie Abrams took an active role in community issues upon her return to Little Rock in 1956. Through her work with the ATA and in that she was a close associate of Daisy Bates, she became involved with the desegregation of Central High School. Abrams also involved herself in Democratic Party politics, at one point joining a group of Democratic women who campaigned for Republican Winthrop Rockefeller as he sought the state’s governorship. She began active participation in the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) leadership during the 1970s. In 1978, she traveled to Geneva, Switzerland, as a YWCA delegate and represented North America at a United Nations conference as a non-governmental organization (NGO) affiliate.
The first national observance of the Martin Luther King, Jr., holiday was held on January 20, 1986, after which Abrams, with the help of other community members meeting in her living room, established what would become the annual Martin Luther King, Jr., Day parade. Abrams, along with others, also began a campaign to rename High Street in Little Rock as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Drive. After years of petitioning the City of Little Rock’s Board of Directors, the street was renamed and dedicated in 1992. She was also instrumental in campaigns to name streets in honor of local legends Daisy Gatson Bates and Mayor Charles Bussey.
In 2010, the Coalition of Greater Little Rock Neighborhoods, along with the New Africa Alliance and other local community organizations, submitted applications to the City of Little Rock’s Board of Directors requesting that Wright Avenue be renamed in honor of Abrams. The request caused controversy because this would replace one person’s name with another, and the street would be named for someone still living. After the initial proposal was thwarted, 19th Street was suggested as an alternative. The suggestion did nothing to quell the controversy. In February 2011, at the request of Abrams, the application was withdrawn.
Abrams has been involved in many community-service organizations. She was a member of the Little Rock Central High Integration 50th Anniversary Commission, commissioner for the Fair Housing Commission, and treasurer of the Arkansas Democratic Black Caucus; she also serves as an honorary co-chairman of the state Martin Luther King, Jr., Commission.
Abrams is the recipient of numerous honors and has been recognized throughout the state for her continued community service and activism. She was awarded an honorary doctorate and the Community Service Award from her alma mater, Philander Smith College. Abrams has received the Brooks Hays Award for Civil Rights Champions and the Making of the Martin Luther King, Jr., Holiday Award by the national Martin Luther King, Jr., Commission, given by Coretta Scott King.
Abrams resides in her family home in Little Rock. She has remained active in community and political activism, and her endorsement is highly sought in local politics.