The 1720 Initiative

1720 Initiative
Jul 4 · 5 min read
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The 1720 Initiative for Arkansas is named in remembrance of the year that the first enslaved Africans entered Arkansas, and is in support of building a new political future. We make it easy for you to support Black political representation in Arkansas.


The 4th of July. Independence Day. A sacred day in our country’s history when we celebrate the our birth as a free Nation. Yet now, more than ever, we feel the searing pain of that history like scorching embers on an open wound. Now, more than ever, we hear the whispers of James Baldwin reminding us of the complexity of that history.

American history is longer, larger, more various, more beautiful, and more terrible than anything anyone has ever said about it. -James Baldwin

Now, more than ever, we are reminded that — when this nation became free not all of us were free. This truth is not some obscure bit of knowledge hidden deep in the dust covered annals of history. On the contrary, this truth is enshrined in our earliest laws and it is branded onto our collective experience. Frederick Douglass, outlined this truth in his speech “What to the Slave is the 4th of July”, and it is brought to life in the release of this powerful video recording of his descendants reading passages from that speech.

“At a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing argument, is needed. O! had I the ability, and could I reach the nation’s ear, I would, to-day, pour out a fiery stream of biting ridicule, blasting reproach, withering sarcasm, and stern rebuke. For it is not light that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake. The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and its crimes against God and man must be proclaimed and denounced.”- Frederick Douglass

For our nation came into being at a time when slavery was highly profitable and widely legal — legal for one human to take another human as property and treat them far worse than field animals. It is believed that 300 years ago, in 1720, the first enslaved Africans entered what became known as Arkansas. This lasting legacy of deep injustice continues to plague us today. The depths of structural racism in America is rooted in this history. Our collective path forward starts with acknowledging how this history informs our present and includes proactively excising the worst vestiges that remain entangled in our present.

And so it becomes our journey, as a community committed to making real the ideals of our American democracy to be proactively anti-racist.

We cannot just do this in only one aspect of our lives — we must do this in all aspects of our lives. In our daily actions and our behaviors, in the way we raise our children and engage with our neighbors, in the way we speak up and speak out and in the way we engage in our political process. It is a journey that crosses many paths.


The path and process we focus on today is political. Not because the political realm is more important, but because Black voices need to be at the table leading the changes that must be made. The elected leaders of this nation have yet to represent and fully reflect the people of this nation. In Arkansas, we are working collaboratively to change that by launching The 1720 Initiative to support Black candidates for elected office.

The 1720 Initiative for Arkansas is named to remember that year and to accelerate our progress towards a new future: a future that is worthy of celebration by all. But, to get there, we must be honest about our present. Today, there is not one Black leader represented in Arkansas’ U.S. Congressional delegation. Today, eleven percent (11%) of the members of the Arkansas General Assembly are African American. According to the Pew Center, “data from the past 50 years reveal the upward yet uneven trajectory of Black political leadership in America. In 1965, there were no Blacks in the U.S. Senate, nor were there any Black governors. And only six members of the House of Representatives were Black. As of 2019, there is greater representation in some areas — 52 House members are Black, putting the share of Black House members (12%) on par with the share of Blacks in the U.S. population overall for the first time in history. But in other areas, there has been little change (there are three Black senators and no Black governors).” Representation matters and getting there requires a shift in culture and a shift in who represents us in government.


We cannot increase Black representation overnight, but we can start today by taking action to invest in Black candidates on Arkansas’ 2020 ballot. This is what The 1720 Initiative seeks to do by creating a simple link that allows you, with the click of a button, to invest in over a dozen candidates. Over the coming months we will work to help you get to know these candidates better — to learn their stories and understand how they are changing the face of political power in Arkansas one race at a time.


Donate to Arkansas’ Black candidates by going here. It’s simple, donate equally to all candidates with one click or assign amounts and then donate. Your support will be instrumental.

As Isidore Dharmd Douglass Skinner shared in reflecting on the words of his ancestor Frederick Douglass: “Pessimism is a tool of White oppression. I think we are slaves to the notion that it will never get better. But I think that there is hope and I think it’s important that we celebrate Black joy and Black life and remember that change is possible, change is probable and that there is hope.”

The 1720 Initiative was created by Dr. Chris Jones and Gayatri Agnew, The 1720 Initiative is a collective hope for our future. It is not a formal organization or group. It is not politically partisan or deeply ideological. We are a network of Arkansans seeking to mobilize others to create change and shift the face of political power in Arkansas. We invite you to join with us.

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