Ernest Clifton (Ernie) Dumas (1937–)
Ernie Dumas was the dean of the Arkansas political press corps for most of the second half of the twentieth century. His days as a journalist extended back to high school, when he worked for the El Dorado Daily News, and he was later an associate editor and a reporter for the Arkansas Gazette and a columnist for the Arkansas Times.
Ernest Clifton Dumas was born on December 13, 1937, in El Dorado (Union County), the younger of two sons born to Joseph Clifton Dumas and Berta Canady Dumas. His mother was an educator who stopped teaching when she got married, but she taught Dumas to read before he started school and later taught his son as well. Dumas grew up in El Dorado and graduated from El Dorado High School in 1955.
At the start of his senior year, inspired by the urging of an English teacher, he went to the El Dorado Daily News seeking a job. After a quick tryout in which he wrote a couple of articles from materials the editor supplied, he was hired. Working after school and on weekends, Dumas quickly learned about the newspaper business. After graduation in the spring of 1955, he headed off to Henderson State Teachers College (now Henderson State University) in Arkadelphia (Clark County), but he continued to work for the paper. Coming home every Friday afternoon, he would go straight to the Daily News and work until midnight; he would work all day Saturday and Sunday before returning to school. In addition, he wrote for a satellite weekly, the Smackover Journal, which was owned by the owner of the El Dorado papers.
While at Henderson, Dumas served as coeditor of the college paper, the Oracle. In that role, he ran afoul of President Dean Depew (D. D.) McBrien, who, concerned about state funding, had made clear to Dumas and his colleague that he did not want to see the paper cover the unfolding crisis at Central High School in Little Rock (Pulaski County); they could not resist, however. McBrien’s heated response offered a life lesson but ultimately had no negative consequences. While he was at Henderson, Dumas also worked in the school’s public relations office, mostly writing press releases.
After three years at Henderson, Dumas was urged to look into journalism school, given that Henderson did not have such a program. Uncertain, he nevertheless transferred to the University of Missouri (MU) in Columbia, the home of the nation’s oldest journalism school. Entering as a junior in the fall of 1958, Dumas enrolled in the school of journalism. At the same time, he also enrolled in the College of Arts and Sciences, intending to major in history. However, his advisor, seeing the raft of English classes he already had in hand, convinced him to stay in English, and so in June 1960, Dumas graduated from the University of Missouri with bachelor’s degrees in both journalism and English. While at MU, he took a job with the local daily newspaper, the Columbia Missourian. Writing for the paper while also working on the copy desk, he impressed the city editor who, like many of his fellow editors, was also a professor of journalism at the university. When Dumas graduated, he was selected as the Outstanding Student Journalist.
Dumas secured employment at the Arkansas Gazette while finishing school at MU. Offered the job by a staffer at the Gazette who had previously worked for the El Dorado paper, he began on the police beat and was also a general assignment reporter covering topics such as visiting librarians coming to town, spot news, and tornadoes. In 1962, he began to cover the Arkansas General Assembly and the state political scene, and by 1964, that was his regular beat.
He married Elaine Kersey of Fox (Stone County) in June 1964, and they had one son, Christopher.
Following the closure of the Gazette in 1991, Dumas began writing for the Arkansas Times. Beyond the Gazette, his work has been featured in the New York Times and the Philadelphia Inquirer. For a few years after the closure of the Gazette in 1991, Dumas also taught journalism at the University of Central Arkansas.
His years of experience made him the go-to local journalist when Bill Clinton arrived on the national scene. Dumas edited a book on the Clintons, The Clintons of Arkansas: An Introduction by Those Who Know Them Best, which was published in early 1993, not long after they moved into the White House. Dumas also assisted Judge Tom Glaze with his autobiography, Waiting for the Cemetery Vote: The Fight to Stop Election Fraud in Arkansas, published in 2011. That same year, he edited Leland Duvall’s Dearest Letty: The World War II Love Letters of Sgt. Leland Duvall. Dumas published his own memoir in 2019, The Education of Ernie Dumas: Chronicles of the Arkansas Political Mind, which Arkansas Business called a “fly-on-the-wall retrospective” of state politics.
Dumas and his wife reside in Little Rock.
For additional information:
Dumas, Ernest. The Education of Ernie Dumas: Chronicles of the Arkansas Political Mind. Little Rock: Butler Center Books, 2019.
“Ernie Dumas.” Pryor Center for Arkansas Oral and Visual History, University of Arkansas. https://pryorcenter.uark.edu/interview.php?thisProject=Arkansas%20Memories&thisProfileURL=DUMAS-Ernie&displayName=Ernest%20Dumas&thisInterviewee=115 (accessed June 10, 2021).
Nelson, Rex. “Ernie Dumas Weighs In.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, June 1, 2019. https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2019/jun/01/ernie-dumas-weighs-in-20190601/ (accessed June 10, 2021).
William H. Pruden III
Last Updated: 06/10/2021