Searcy, Arkansas is a unique place. Tucked away in the heart of the southern town is Harding University, a tiny little world of its own. In 1782 French-American writer Hector St. John de Crevecoeur wrote, “Here individuals of all nations are melted into a new race of men, whose labors and posterity will one day cause changes in the world.” Crevecoeur was writing about America at the time, giving birth to the “melting pot” metaphor, and to be honest you can apply that quote seamlessly to Searcy or, more specifically, Harding. Currently at Harding there are students from 49 states and 44 countries all congregating on one 350 acre campus in the middle of Arkansas. For some, taking that type of smorgasbord of culture and race and plopping it down in the heart of the American south is a natural cause for concern. I mean, the south hasn’t exactly been known for its history of love and acceptance of all people. For others however, they couldn’t think of a better place than the Bible Belt for foreign people, or just people in general, to come and discover what true American love and acceptance is like. James Thompson, a 67-year-old Searcy resident, is one of those people.
“I think [Harding students] fit in very well,” Thompson said. “They are very polite and courteous. Besides, [Harding] is a Christian school in a Christian town in a dry county.”
I found this was a popular opinion as I continued talking to more people. Thompson was born in Arkansas but moved to Michigan as a young man to work for General Motors. However, he and his wife moved back to Searcy 14 years ago. When I asked why, Thompson said,
“We moved back because of the schools in White County. It’s one of the best areas around.”
This too was a reoccurring comment. In fact, everyone I talked to about these two topics had the same response. They (“obviously” as some put it) knew about Harding; they think Harding students are kind, respectful and fit in rather nicely. They think Searcy is one of the best, if not the best, areas around and the people are friendly and easy to get to know. So perhaps this miniature melting pot doesn’t contain a recipe for disaster after all. Perhaps, as Crevecoeur wrote, it is a pot full of men and women “…Whose labors and posterity will one day cause changes in the world.”