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Annie Mable McDaniel Abrams is a retired educator and a political, social, civic, and community activist in Little Rock (Pulaski County). She was instrumental in campaigns to rename various Little Rock streets in honor of Daisy Bates and Mayor Charles Bussey. Most notably, she was a leader in the campaign resulting in the renaming of High Street in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. and in the institution of Little Rock’s first Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade.
Annie McDaniel was born on September 25, 1931, in Arkadelphia (Clark County). 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 the 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, majoring in teacher education. After graduating 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 forfeited the scholarship.
McDaniel relocated to Marianna (Lee County) to teach at the segregated elementary school, which consisted of three rooms. 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; they had four children. She later enrolled in Philander Smith College on a part-time basis, graduating with a BA in special education in 1962. Orville Abrams 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, she became involved with the desegregation of Central High School, being a close associate of Daisy Bates during the Central High crisis. 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 representing 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.
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. Abrams serves as an honorary co-chair 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. She was also a 2010 inductee into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame.
Abrams continues to reside in her family home in Little Rock. She remains active in community and political activism, and her endorsement is highly sought in local politics.
For additional information:Abrams, Annie. “Interview with Annie Abrams.” October 28, 2005. Audio online at Butler Center AV/AR Audio Video Collection. Annie Abrams Interview (accessed September 10, 2018).
Abrams, Annie. “Interview with Annie Abrams.” November 30, 2005. Audio online at Butler Center AV/AR Audio Video Collection. Annie Abrams Interview (accessed September 10, 2018).
Dishongh, Kimberly. “Annie Mable McDaniel Abrams.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, September 9, 2018, pp. 1D, 5D.
Peacock, Leslie Newell. “Living Witness.” Arkansas Times, February 25, 2010, pp. 11–13, 15. Online at http://www.arktimes.com/arkansas/living-witness/Content?oid=1013919 (accessed September 10, 2018).
Kyle L. Jones Henderson State University
Last Updated 9/10/2018
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