The American flag has featured 50 stars since 1959, when Alaska and Hawaii joined the Union. That means over six decades have passed since the United States last expanded, which was well after Arkansas was admitted as the 25th state.
In fact, June 15 marks 186 years since The Natural State achieved statehood. Events during the nearly-two centuries since have profoundly shaped and influenced the history, culture and direction of our state. This week, as we celebrate the anniversary of this occasion, we have an opportunity to look back on how Arkansas’s story has unfolded and to renew our hope in the promise of an even brighter future.
From the Quapaw tribe of Native Americans who inhabited the land when French and Spanish explorers discovered it – giving rise to the name Arkansas first as a reference to the indigenous residents and then to the territory itself – to the citizens who reside here today, we all understand how majestic this place is and why it’s so special.
That also partly helps explain the nicknames Arkansas has acquired over time, including The Wonder State, The Land of Opportunity and now The Natural State.
There’s a clear and deep appreciation for the inherently beautiful geographical array it showcases. Over time, that reality has helped draw visitors from across the country and throughout the world to experience and appreciate what the state legislature formally described as the “unsurpassed scenery, clear lakes, free-flowing streams, magnificent rivers, meandering bayous, delta bottomlands, forested mountains and abundant fish and wildlife” readily found here.
But it’s not just the land and natural resources that help set it apart. We know the people and communities here are equally integral features within Arkansas’s story.
Like most other states, this land was once a frontier that presented promise and risk to settlers looking for a new start. That gave rise to a flourishing society which spread out to every corner of modern-day Arkansas. The demographics and population centers continue to change, but Arkansans stay true to our unique legacy and the wonderful traditions that bring families, friends and neighbors together.
Folklore like the Arkansas Traveler and community celebrations like the Pink Tomato Festival in Bradley County or the Gillett Coon Supper demonstrate a shared sense of identity that unites us and invites people to be part of something bigger than themselves.
These events, and the towns and cities that host them, are proud of the rich heritage they represent.
The state is not the only entity marking a milestone this year. The communities of Lonoke, Judsonia and Brinkley all turn 150, while Joiner and Smackover mark their centennials in 2022.
There’s never a shortage of opportunities to celebrate Arkansas and what sets it apart. The 186 years that have elapsed since it became a state are a testament to the resilience of our people and the institutions we have built. No natural disaster or man-made crisis has yet been able to conquer our spirit or bring us so low as to prevent us from getting back up.
As we look to the future, I am confident we will continue pursuing pathways that help future generations of Arkansans thrive while uplifting our state on many fronts. We have a track record of doing just that by bridging gaps, finding common ground and putting our motto into action – Regnat Populus, “the people rule.”
This state and its people do not quit, and that won’t change when we’re marking the next anniversary or exciting landmark moment.