At 86 years old, Dorothy Stuck of Little Rock was whitewater rafting on four rivers to raise money for the Susan G. Komen Foundation following her victory over breast cancer, and she played tennis until she was 75.
But that tenacious spirit extended well beyond Stuck’s physical exertions.
What she did best was use her unique voice to help people, simply because she believes in them, becoming a force for desegregation in the sometimes intertwined fields of politics and journalism. Drawing on the strengths of individuals and bringing them together to solve problems has been her life’s work.
Stuck’s advice for young people is the way she’s gone about that work: “Believe in the value of persistence, the wisdom of patience, take your time; and the power of the positive approach.”
And Stuck learned all that at home. The person who inspired the woman often introduced as an “Arkansas legend” was her mother.
Stuck’s mother suffered from rheumatoid arthritis and used crutches for most of her daughter’s life.
“She never gave up or gave in despite the deformity in her hands … She ironed beautifully, wrote beautifully,” Stuck said. “She just had a determination and an optimism about her that’s been an inspiration to me.”
That statement could have described Stuck just as easily, because it was with determination and optimism that she fought for desegregation.
1964 & 1969: Named Press Woman of the Year
1968: Named to represent Poinsett County at the Arkansas Constitutional Convention and leads the Suffrage and Election Committee
1970: Named regional director for the U.S. Office for Civil Rights’ Department of Health, Education and Welfare
1997: Co-authors ROBERTA: A Most Remarkable Fullbright” with Nan Snow.
2008: Receives Distinguished Alumni award from the University of Arkansas
2013: Retires from Southern Bancorp Community Partners nonprofit board
The self-described optimist met controversy head on throughout her life, but she didn’t place blame. While fighting for desegregation, she told people that they had inherited a problem but it was a problem they could solve together.
Stuck first became aware of building racial tensions as a college student, and she discussed the subject with her classmates and professors. But her life took a turn when she saw the real-world ramifications of what they were debating.
“I went to Marked Tree and, when you walk the streets of a little town like that, you see the cost of inequity,” Stuck said. “You see that you’re losing people who probably have a lot to offer but, because of their race, they’re being denied.”
Stuck’s husband Howard, who died in 1981, offered a way for her to do something about that. He owned three weekly newspapers, the Marked Tree Tribune, the Lepanto News Record and the Truman Democrat.
So she had an outlet for her voice, but Stuck wasn’t a writer and didn’t care much for writing at first.
She did enjoy and excel at public speaking though. From sixth grade on, the school Stuck attended in Oklahoma had students speak in front of their classes every Friday.
Though Stuck, born in Gravette, is a native Arkansan, she spent the first 16 years of her life in Muskogee, Oklahoma. Her father, a railroad engineer, was stationed there.
She harnessed the talent she gained from that experience to teach herself how to write. Stuck said she would pace the newsroom when it was empty, speak her thoughts then sit at a typewriter to put them to paper.
That was when the Arkansas Democrat published editorials from weeklies in its Sunday edition, and that amplified her voice. Stuck was even named Press Woman of the Year in 1964.
She also helped found Arkansas Press Women and later served as that organization’s president.
By 1968, Stuck was a known quantity. Poinsett County elected her for the Arkansas Constitutional Convention, and she was the only woman elected to chair a major committee at that time. She led the Suffrage and Election Committee.
One thing Stuck said she and her colleagues accomplished was getting rid of a poll tax that had caused political corruption.
Stuck didn’t stop there though. She was named regional director for the U.S. Office for Civil Rights’ Department of Health, Education and Welfare in 1970. Stuck oversaw the Dallas region that included Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas.
She said her job involved convincing white male superintendents to desegregate their school districts.
“I think, in the beginning, school superintendents thought they could just outmaneuver me, but I think my political skills helped me,” Stuck said matter-of-factly. “ I just stood up to them and pointed out the law … I think they found it difficult to deal with me, but I just stood my ground.”
She said one of her favorite stories to tell about those times was when one superintendent asked her an incredulous question: “Do you mean you’re asking me to desegregate these schools and little white girls are going to have to walk along the edges of the sidewalk by the black community?
Stuck said, “I don’t imagine he said black, but well, I said ‘Well, let me ask you: Do the little black girls walk along there?’ And there was not much he could say about that.”
Any time she faced pushback, Stuck said she told herself people were being stubborn because they were scared and that she had to stick to her guns. Stuck said she had to “replace fear of what might happen with faith in [my] ability to handle what does happen.”
As regional director, Stuck was charged with desegregating state health organizations.
She also accepted a temporary assignment as acting national deputy director for the Office of Civil Rights in Washington, D.C.
That was when she worked on Title IX legislation, which would give women the opportunity to participate in sports that she didn’t have while in college. Stuck counts that work among her greatest accomplishments. Had Title IX existed when she was enrolled at the University of Arkansas, Stuck might have pursued interests in track and field and basketball.
Stuck wasn’t uninvolved while at school though. She was a member of the Pi Beta Phi sorority, served for nine years as editor of the sorority’s national magazine and received UA’s Distinguished Alumni Award in 2008.
During her nine-year tenure with the Office of Civil Rights, Stuck received a Distinguished Service Award, became the first woman to chair the Dallas-Fort Worth Federal Executive Board and was named one of Dallas’ Top 10 Women News-Shapers.
Then Stuck returned to Arkansas to work as partner at Stuck & Snow Consultants of Little Rock.
She also joined the board of Southern Bancorp’s holding company, serving three decades, and chaired the bank’s nonprofit partner, Southern Bancorp Community Partners.
Southern Bancorp established the Dorothy Stuck Empowerment Award when she retired. It is given annually to an employee who exemplifies her attributes.
Stuck said the rural development bank was formed to address poverty in the Delta. It offered low-interest loans for mortgages plus the education and loans small businesses needed.
She said she called its mission “Building Communities, Changing Lives.”
Stuck retired from that board in 2013.
Since then, she and her friend, Nan Snow, authored a best-selling biography ROBERTA: A Most Remarkable Fulbright. They earned an award of merit from the American Association of State and Local History for the book.
Stuck currently serves as a member of the Winthrop Rockefeller Lecture Board.
She is also featured in the Rockefeller Museum at Petit Jean Mountain; has been part of the Arkansas women’s exhibit at the Old Statehouse Museum; is listed in “100 Women of Achievement in Arkansas;” is included in the UA’s Pryor Center for Oral & Visual History; and was recognized by Southern Methodist University’s Archives of the Women of the Southwest.
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