Capitol Words a project of the Sunlight Foundation

  • and

Tribute To Curtis H. Sykes

Sen. Blanche Lincoln

legislator photo

Mr. President, I rise to honor the life of a great Arkansan, Curtis H. Sykes, who passed away last week.

As a member of the Special Task Force to Study the History and Contributions of Slave Laborers in the Construction of the U.S. Capitol, Mr. Sykes made valuable contributions to the important and challenging work that the task force conducted. As its name indicates, the purpose of the task force is to recognize and preserve the contributions that African Americans made to the construction of the Capitol complex. The task force has served as a working memorial to pay tribute to those who made an enormous sacrifice to help build the greatest symbol of our Nation's freedom. I was pleased that the task force was developed to include citizen representation, and Curtis Sykes was an integral part of helping us examine those contributions.

In addition to his work on the task force, Curtis Sykes was also an accomplished historian and respected community leader in Arkansas. Mr. Sykes served as chairman of the Arkansas Black History Committee since 1993 and was the first African-American member of the North Little Rock History Commission. He brought a wealth of experience to the study of our great State's history and was an advocate for equality, fairness, and justice.

Shortly after his graduation from the segregated Scipio A. Jones High School, located in his hometown of North Little Rock, in 1947, Curtis served our Nation in the U.S. Army from 1950 to 1952. He then pursued a lifelong career in education.

Prior to retiring in 1985, Curtis worked for 33 years in education as a teacher, football coach, assistant principal and principal. He was one of the first African-American principals in the Little Rock school district during the 1960s, and after his life in education, he led the fight to pass legislation in the Arkansas General Assembly which established a Black history curriculum in Arkansas schools.

He also continued to pursue his passion to help young children learn and succeed after retirement through his work in a number of civic and community organizations. His activities included offices in the Arkansas Chapter of the NAACP, the Young YMCA/COPE of Central Arkansas and Headstart of Pulaski County.

Mr. Sykes earned his bachelor's degree from Arkansas Baptist College in Little Rock, Arkansas; a master's from Texas College in Tyler, Texas; and his master's in education from Harding University in Searcy, AR. In fact, he became the first African American to receive a degree from Harding in 1962.

In addition, Mr. Sykes received a number of honors and awards during his lifetime. He was the recipient of the Salute to Greatness Award from the Martin Luther King, Jr. Commission for his outstanding record of community service. He was also recognized by the city of North Little Rock when Mayor Patrick Hays declared a Curtis Sykes Day in 1992 to honor his many contributions to the city.

Curtis H. Sykes will be greatly missed by communities all across Arkansas, as well as those he worked with here in Washington, DC. He had an impact on thousands of people from all walks of life, and his death will leave a void throughout Arkansas.

He will not be forgotten, however. The Arkansas History Commission contains the Curtis H. Sykes Collection which includes Scipio High yearbooks, past Arkansas Teacher Association journals, and other North Little Rock memorabilia and documents which will enable future generations to learn about his life and legacy.

In the weeks and months ahead, our thoughts and prayers will be with friends and family of the Sykes as they grieve the loss of a true Arkansas pioneer.