LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Bill Clinton, once famously described by author Toni Morrison as "our first black president," is being inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame as an honorary member.
The former president will be the first non-black recognized in the hall's 10-year history. He is expected to attend the Saturday night event.
"It is this community's way of saying thank you to him for the work that he has done," Charles Stewart, the hall's chairman and founder.
Clinton and black Arkansans have long had a relationship of mutual admiration.
The honor is in recognition of Clinton's appointment of blacks to high levels in both state and federal government, Stewart said. The group's selection committee also voted for Clinton in part to honor him for the work he has done in his post presidency to combat AIDS in Africa and the Caribbean, Stewart added.
Morrison made her reference to Clinton as the nation's first black president because of what many regard as his understanding of the black condition and because of his upbringing. He grew up poor and was raised for a time by a single mother.
Darren Peters, a former White House staffer during the Clinton administration, said Clinton took a number of black Arkansans, including himself, to Washington.
"During his administration as governor, as well as president, Bill Clinton provided tremendous opportunities for African Americans through his appointments and giving African Americans roles in nontraditional positions," said Peters, who now works for Entergy Arkansas.
"He didn't give handouts but he helped provide the opportunities to give African Americans exposure," Peters said.
The honorary induction "is not in any way an effort to say that Clinton is an African American ... I think it's just a way to honor someone whom African Americans respect and hold in high regard," he said.
Slated for induction into the hall this year are R&B and gospel singer Al Green of Memphis; Dr. Edith Irby Jones of Houston, the first black graduate of the College of Medicine at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences; Al Bell of North Little Rock, the driving force behind Stax Records; award-wining poet Haki Madhubuti of Chicago; Faye Clarke of Long Beach, Calif., co-founder and executive director of the Educate the Children Foundation; and the late Bishop Charles H. Mason, founder of the Church of God in Christ Inc.
Former inductees to the hall include poet Maya Angelou; Ebony and Jet magazine publisher John H. Johnson Jr. and former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Joycelyn Elders, who was appointed by Clinton.