Stuff in the Bluff Interviews Author Jason Irby, Founder of the Arkansas Flag/Wabbaseka Veterans Memorial Plaza

Stuff in the Bluff interviews author Jason Irby, founder of the Arkansas Flag/Wabbaseka Veterans Memorial Plaza.

The Plaza is dedicated to honoring Arkansas flag designer and Wabbaseka native, Willie K. Hocker, the USS Arkansas and veterans of the State of Arkansas.

The Plaza is located at the intersection of Highway 79/63 and Myrtle Street in Wabbaseka, Arkansas. Following is the interview transcript in its entirety:

Introduction:  The month of October marks the 9th anniversary of the showcasing of the Arkansas Flag / Wabbaseka Veterans Memorial Plaza and its presentation to the public.

Kim Jones Sneed, founder and publisher of Stuff In The Bluff, caught up with Jason Irby, an author who founded and established the memorial.  Join them as they take a trip down memory lane and reflect on how it all got started.

Kim:  Jason, as you think about that special day, what events stand out in your mind?

Jason:  On the morning of October 12, a Corvette convoy left Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Arkansas after receiving a flag in the likeness of the 1912 Arkansas Flag designed by Willie K. Hocker of Wabbaseka, Arkansas. The convoy arrived at the gates of the Arkansas State Fairgrounds in Little Rock, Arkansas, was greeted by Arkansas State Fair officials as well as state and public officials and received the 1913 Arkansas Flag designed by Miss Hocker. The convoy then left the State fairgrounds in session joined by more corvettes and officials. The convoy arrived at the Jefferson County Courthouse, greeted by then Judge Dutch King and the Pine Bluff City representative, and received a 1924 likeness Arkansas State Flag. The convoy continued on towards Wabbaseka and was joined by more State of Arkansas officials and dignitaries. The convoy and three Arkansas era flags were greeted in Wabbaseka by an eagerly awaiting crowd to celebrate the showcase ceremony of the Arkansas Flag/Wabbaseka Veterans Memorial Plaza. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe (Governor 2013) contributed an Arkansas Flag that had flown above the Arkansas State Capital in Little Rock. Former U.S. Representative Tim Griffin (Congressman 2013) contributed a USA Flag which had flown above the United States Capital in Washington, D.C.

Kim:  Next year marks the tenth anniversary of the establishing of the memorial. In addition to this, another key piece of history will also be commemorated. Tell us more about that.

Jason:  The year 2023 will be the 100th year since Miss Hocker’s 1913 Arkansas Flag, which was presented to the USS Arkansas, was retired to be replaced by an altered design. This was a design that would include a fourth star along with three stars that represented the USA, France and Spain.  A fourth star represents the Confederate effort. It was a horrific and sad time on American soil. It was emotional. People were killed. Some were even slaughtered. Families were separated and disenfranchised during the Civil War. There were people who wanted to keep Black people enslaved without end as well as keep Native people who endured the Trail of Tears under forced removal from returning to their homelands. They also wanted to deny other minorities life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. This is another huge national subject within itself but still part of this story.

Kim:  So what do you think needs to be done in 2023 and beyond?

Jason:  First, let me say that the 110th year of Arkansas having an official flag is rapidly approaching. Reflecting on that as well as the 100th year since Miss Hocker’s 1913 design was retired, it is my belief that the 1913 flag should be reinstated.  The subject concerning the Arkansas Flag continues. As the subject concerning the Arkansas Flag continues, I believe that Miss Hocker’s original 1913 design should be reinstated as Arkansas’s official flag.  This upcoming 100th year would be the perfect time to reinstate and commemorate the product of her legacy.  Another reasonable option would be to designate the large star above the name Arkansas to be that of the United States of America because no image, logo or emblem rises above that which represents the U.S. An additional option would be to designate the large star above the name Arkansas as United States of America and change the diamond to a geographical faceted image 💎 like the ones on Arkansas license plates.

Kim:  Have you ever shared these ideas with any state officials?

Jason:  I first shared a draft resolution explaining my ideas and options in 2015 with Arkansas Sen. Stephanie Flowers and Dr. David Ware, who was the Arkansas State Capital Historian at the time.  

Kim:  What was the result?

Jason:  Sen. Flowers is a true Arkansas Patriot. She directed our committee to those who could help us get the memorial off the ground as well as help with additional financial support (Southeast Arkansas Economic Development District) and historical support through Dr. Ware (who is now the director of Arkansas State Archives). Following the search through historical documents, I learned so much more about the Arkansas Flag, Miss Hocker, and the history surrounding the creation of the flag. While living in Wabbaseka, I attended Hocker Elementary School among the three schools in the Wabbaseka School District which also included J.S. Walker High School and Wabbaseka High School.

Kim:  Was Hocker Elementary School named after Willie K. Hocker?

Jason:  Yes it was. As a youth I did not connect the dots that the school was named after Miss Hocker, who once lived and died in Wabbaseka.  She came to the area from Kentucky in her youth. Her father was a Union Soldier who fought against the Confederate Forces. Miss Hocker was an honorable member of Daughters of the American Revolution (a respected organization established in Washington D.C. that promotes patriotism, American history, awareness and education). Most importantly, she created the official Arkansas State Flag. I didn’t even know that Willie K. Hocker was a female, not to mention one of Arkansas’ most prominent women in history. I believe at this time in history, it would be appropriate to reinstate her 1913 flag.  It is interesting that the Confederate effort holds such a dominant footprint in national history as it was not even a recognized sovereign state. As I stated before, the subject is very emotional and tragic human experiences on multiple levels.

Kim:  What’s the status of the memorial? What does the future hold?

Jason:  The Arkansas Flag/Wabbaseka Veterans Memorial Plaza is currently in a wait and see situation.  The city property on which the Memorial Plaza sits is in question.  I, along with members of the Wabbaseka Memorial Committee, eagerly await the opportunity to conduct future ceremonies. We love our servicemen and servicewomen along with our citizens’ accomplishments. The Arkansas Flag/Wabbaseka Veterans Memorial Plaza was built on the great support and efforts of our community. Long time area families became donors and volunteers. Leaders and everyday people from around the state helped us as well. We just want to get back to conducting ceremonies and services that commemorate contributions to society.

Kim:  Do you have any closing remarks?

Jason:  The many individuals and organizations that presented or participated at the Arkansas Flag / Wabbaseka Veterans Memorial Plaza are greatly appreciated. Just to name a few, this included Wabbaseka churches; the Cities of Wabbaseka, Pine Bluff, and Little Rock; the Mayors of Wabbaseka, Pine Bluff, and Little Rock; ROTC units from Dollarway High School, Pine Bluff High School, Watson Chapel High School and the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff; and the Arkansas Army National Guard, Little Rock Air Force Base, U.S. Navy and U.S. Army.  Proclamations, citations, and letters of recommendation were submitted from Arkansas governor, mayors, secretary of the Navy and county judge. Presentations were also made by congressional members, mayors and many others.

Below is a complete list of participants:

Proclamations, Citations, and Letters of Recommendation from the Arkansas Governor’s Office, the Arkansas State Legislature 89th General Assembly – Regular Session 2013, Mayors of Little Rock and Pine Bluff, Arkansas, Secretary of the Navy, and the Jefferson County Judge.

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