Little Rock Look Back: President Clinton performs with Arkansas Symphony

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton addresses the audience after reciting Martin Luther King’s famous speech, ‘I Have A Dream’, to the music of Alexander L. Miller at Robinson Auditorium March 25, 2003 in Little Rock. (Photo by Karen E. Segrave/Getty Images)

On March 25, 2003, former President Bill Clinton took the stage of Robinson Center Music Hall to perform with the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra. Entitled “Let Freedom Ring – A Patriotic Celebration,” the evening was a joint fundraiser for the Symphony and the Clinton Foundation.

Before a packed house, Clinton narrated Aaron Copland’s A Lincoln Portrait which weaves excerpts from Lincoln speeches with Copland’s own unique classical take on American heartland music.  Clinton also narrated Let Freedom Ring, a symphonic setting by Alexander Miller of Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech.

The evening also consisted of Broadway veteran and Little Rock favorite Lawrence Hamilton singing “Wheels of a Dream” from the musical Ragtime.  On Broadway and on national tour, Hamilton had previously sung the song.

The Arkansas Symphony Orchestra also performed An American in Paris by George Gershwin and “Jupiter” from The Planets by Gustav Holst.  This final selection was a tribute to the seven astronauts who had died in the crash of the space shuttle Columbia on February 1, 2003.

David Itkin, who was then the musical director of the ASO, conducted the concert.

Women’s History Month – Dr. Joycelyn Elders

Being the second female and first African American female to serve as Surgeon General, was just another milestone in the career of Dr. Joycelyn Elders.

In 1960, she graduated from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. Though not the first African American female to do so, she was very much in a minority for both her race and her gender.  In 1967, she would return to UAMS as a faculty member.

After two decades of service as a physician and educator, Governor Bill Clinton appointed her to lead the Arkansas Department of Health in 1987.  She was the first African American woman to lead that department.  She led that department until 1992.  At that point in time, President Bill Clinton tapped her to be Surgeon General.

Upon leaving the post of Surgeon General, she returned to UAMS as a professor. She is now a professor emeritus.  Dr. Elders is also in demand as a lecturer and panelist.

She has been inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame, Arkansas Women’s Hall of Fame, and the Arkansas Civil Rights Heritage Trail.

Women’s History Month – Dr. Edith Irby Jones

Dr. Edith Irby Jones was the first African American woman to attend and to graduate from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.  At the time she was admitted, she became the first African American to attend any previously segregated medical school in the South.

Though she was admitted to the school, she was not allowed to use the same dining, lodging, or bathroom facilities as the white students.  She later noted that the African American janitorial staff placed a vase of fresh flowers on her table every day in the segregated dining room she shared with the staff.  While at UAMS, she traveled the state to promote the NAACP as a token of appreciation for the work that organization had done to help raise funds for her schooling and lodging.

After graduating from medical school, she practiced medicine in Hot Springs before she and her husband eventually relocated to Texas.  She practiced medicine in Houston for fifty years.

Little Rock Look Back: MacArthur Returns

General MacArthur and Mayor Remmel

On Sunday, March 23, 1952, General Douglas MacArthur made his only post-infancy visit to Little Rock. He had previously been scheduled to visit Mississippi, and Little Rock Mayor Pratt Remmel had persuaded him to add a visit to Little Rock to the agenda. The fact that Little Rock now had a Republican mayor had apparently piqued the General’s interest.

General MacArthur, accompanied by his wife and son as well as several journalists and members of his military retinue, arrived at Little Rock Airport at 10:40 am. He was met by a delegation of civic leaders including Mayor Remmel. Alderman James Griffey made welcoming remarks on behalf of the city. Then the General and Mayor boarded an open car and led a motorcade from the airport to downtown.

The motorcade’s destination was Christ Episcopal Church at Capitol and Scott streets. It was at this church that MacArthur had been baptized as an infant. The delegation was greeted by the Episcopal Bishop R. Bland Mitchell, Rector J. Hodge Alves, and Rector Emeritus W. P. Witsell. (While he had been Rector, Dr. Witsell had garnered national attention by issuing an Easter blessing to Gen. MacArthur as he had been evacuating the Philippines at the height of World War II.) In order to gain admittance to the church that morning, church members and guests had to have tickets.

Following the worship service, the General and his party went to three events in the park named in his honor. The first was a tour of the Museum of Natural History (now the Museum of Discovery and located in the River Market; the current tenant of the building is the MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History), which was located in the building in which the General had been born. After the tour, he spoke at a dedication of a small rose garden adjacent to the museum. It was sponsored by the Little Rock City Beautiful Commission and the Garden Clubs of Greater Little Rock.

Though every stop of the General’s visit had featured crowds, the largest was at the third location in MacArthur Park. A crowd of several thousand greeted the General as he spoke from the Foster Bandshell in the park’s southwest corner. Chamber of Commerce president Richard C. Butler (brother-in-law of Mayor Remmel) was the master of ceremonies. Following an invocation by Methodist Bishop Paul Martin, the only other speaker was the General. In his remarks he spoke of his Southern heritage and of his appreciation for the support of the citizens of Little Rock over the years.

Several gifts were bestowed upon the MacArthurs at the ceremony. The City of Little Rock presented Mrs. MacArthur with an engraved silver serving tray.

Following the events in MacArthur Park, the family retired for a brief respite to the Hotel Marion. They then attended a luncheon buffet in their honor at the home of Howard and Elsie Stebbins on Edgehill Road. The General and Mrs. MacArthur circulated through the house greeting guests and then eschewed a special table in favor of balancing their plates on their laps and sitting in wingback chairs. Meanwhile Arthur MacArthur stayed upstairs and discussed stamp collecting and other hobbies with the Stebbins’ two teenage sons.

Following the luncheon, the MacArthur party went back to the airport and by 4:00pm, the plane was in the air.

Though this visit was coming at the end of a whirlwind of activities, by all accounts, the General and Mrs. MacArthur were very gracious and accommodating. The General was being mentioned as a potential GOP candidate for President, but purposefully steered clear of any political comments in his remarks. He and Mrs. MacArthur dutifully posed for photos not only for the media but also for amateur photographers. At lunch, the General even asked a Gazettephotographer to take a photo of him with his Little Rock Police motorcycle escorts so that they could have a souvenir of the visit.

Women’s History Month – Dr. Ida Joe Brooks, first female medical doctor in Arkansas

Dr. Ida Joe Brooks was the first woman to practice medicine in Arkansas.  In 1920, she became the first woman to be a party nominee for a statewide office.  She was the Republican nominee for State Superintendent of Public Instruction. However, due to her gender, the state Attorney General would not let her name appear on the ballot. (Even though this was the first election in which women could vote.)

In 1877, Dr. Brooks, became the first woman to head a state teachers’ organization. She was president of the Arkansas Educational Association.  After teaching for several years, she wanted to attend medical school.  She had to do so out of state, because the Arkansas medical school would not admit her based on her gender.  In 1914, she ended up becoming the first female faculty member of what is now UAMS.

During World War I, she attempted to enlist in military service.  When she was denied, due to her gender, she was commissioned in the US Public Health Service and served at Camp Pike specializing in psychiatry.  After the war, she was health director for the Little Rock School District.

Women’s History Month – Janet Jones, first female chair of Little Rock Chamber

Janet Jones served as the 1998 Chair of the Little Rock Regional Chamber.  She was the first woman to lead the organization in its history (which started in 1866).

She began selling real estate in 1974 and formed the company which bears her name in 1980.  In addition to continuing to be a realtor, she has remained active in civic affairs.  She is a past Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board of the Little Rock Branch.

She has also served on various community boards throughout the years, including CARTI, UA Little Rock, YMCA, Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Central Arkansas, Fifty for the Future, and Youth Home. She was named Business Executive of the Year by Arkansas Business, Sustainer of the Year by The Junior League of Little Rock, ranked in the Top 100 Women in Arkansas, and Rotary Club of Little Rock Business & Professional Leader of the Year Award.

Women’s History Month – Kathy Webb, first female to chair Ark legislature Joint Budget Committee

One of the most important committees at the Arkansas General Assembly is the Joint Budget Committee.  It is chaired by a senator and a representative.  In 2011 and 2012, as a state representative, Kathy Webb became the first woman to chair the committee.  Considering that the first woman to be sworn in to the Arkansas General Assembly (Erle Chambers) was from Little Rock, and the first woman to chair a standing committee of the General Assembly (Myra Jones) was from Little Rock, it is fitting that the first woman to chair Joint Budget was also from Little Rock.

While women had been chairing committees for two decades, no female had ever led this committee.  During her tenure, Rep. Webb received praise from people in both houses and both parties for her leadership.  She served in the Arkansas General Assembly from 2007 until 2012.  During that time, she was also named the most effective legislator by Talk Business

Now, she is Vice Mayor of Little Rock.  Vice Mayor Webb is in her first term representing Ward 3 of Little Rock.  She will be vice mayor until December 2018.  Vice-Mayor Webb grew up in Arkansas and graduated from Little Rock Hall High. She earned a degree from Randolph-Macon Woman’s College and attended graduate school at the University of Central Arkansas. She has also participated in the Senior Executives in State and Local Government program at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.