Demirel’s Book Highlights Rich History Of Arkansas Sports

FAYETTEVILLE (KFSM)--Local author Evin Demirel is a walking encyclopedia of sports knowledge. And because February is Black History Month, there's no better time to celebrate the author's book African-American Athletes in Arkansas: Muhammad Ali's Tour, Black Razorbacks & Other Forgotten Stories.

Demirel attended Central High School in the late 1990's, which provided most of the inspiration to research and write the anthology.

"Being there at Central High during the 40th anniversary of the Little Rock Central High crisis," Demirel said. "Talking about race relations, civil rights history was a very commonplace theme in our school. And just growing up enjoying the Razorbacks in the 1990s."

The book has many lessons from different periods of Natural State history.

"Silas Hunt integrating the University of Arkansas in 1948, the law school. That's the first flagship university to integrate in the old south," said the author.

Both at the college and high school level, Arkansas was in many ways a trailblazer.

"Lot's of pioneering happened in the South right here in Northwest Arkansas. In terms of Charleston High becomes the first school district in the entire old Confederacy to integrate," recalled Demirel.

"There was an African-American community in Bentonville, close to where Crystal Bridges is now. And they had their own baseball team that played in a black baseball league in the 1910s."

Ties to professional sports run deep as well. And it doesn't get much bigger than Muhammad Ali.

"He came a few times to Arkansas and apparently looks like the first time was 1963, right as he's preparing for his big heavyweight boxing bout with Arkansas native Sonny Liston," Demirel said. "No one caught wind of it. It's not, as far as I can tell, recorded in the public annals. I can't find anybody yet who remembers it."

And that's why the storytelling stands out. Tales both historic and forgotten that make Arkansas a unique place to call home.