University of Arkansas Mourns Death of Civil Rights Activist Christopher Mercer
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Christopher C. Mercer, one of the six students who integrated the University of Arkansas School of Law, died Tuesday morning, Nov. 20, in Little Rock.
“Jane and I are saddened by the news of C.C. Mercer’s death,” said U of A Chancellor G. David Gearhart. “We had known him for many, many years and always had the utmost respect for him. He was an outstanding leader and advocate, a great Arkansan and a much loved member of the Razorback community. He will long be remembered and celebrated as one of our most influential alumni. We extend our heartfelt sympathies to his family and salute C.C. for his life of service to others.”
Mercer was the first African American in the South to serve as a deputy state prosecutor and practiced law for more than 58 years, often representing clients of modest means. He was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the university in May 2011 and received the Silas Hunt Legacy Award in April 2012.
“This is a profound loss for the law school community and the legal profession," said Stacy Leeds, dean of the School of Law. “Mr. Mercer set the perfect example of a lawyer as community leader and public servant. His life is marked by hard work and immeasurable sacrifices, yet he never sought anything in return -- he simply gave.”
Mercer was born in Pine Bluff in 1924 and was one of the law school’s “Six Pioneers,” the first six African American students to enroll at University of Arkansas School of Law. During his time in law school, he supported himself by teaching biology, chemistry and math classes including a business class for veterans at Carver High School in Marked Tree.
“C.C. Mercer’s grace, persistence and good humor set the standard for me,” said Cynthia E. Nance, dean emeritus of the School of Law. “The sacrifices he and the pioneers made paved the way for a more diverse legal profession. I aspire to live up to his example of excellence. I will miss his incredible support and friendship.”
After graduating from the law school in 1955 and passing the bar exam with the highest score in his group, Mercer went on to play an integral part in the legal community and in the civil rights struggle in the state of Arkansas. He was a pivotal figure in the integration of Little Rock Central High School, serving as aide-de-camp for Daisy Bates and transporting the “Little Rock Nine” to and from school each day their first semester. In addition, he was a member of the Arkansas Council on Human Relations and served as the Arkansas field secretary for the NAACP.
“This is a great loss for the university and for the entire state of Arkansas,” said Charles F. Robinson, vice provost for diversity. “C.C. Mercer lived a life filled with achievement and accomplishment. We feel this loss, but we are glad that he is part of U of A and Arkansas history in such a positive way.”
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