One hundred and eighty-one years ago today, Arkansas was admitted to the Union. Happy Birthday Arkansas!
Though President Truman was in Little Rock for a military reunion, he did conduct some official business while here. In his Presidential role, he spoke at the dedication of War Memorial Park on June 11. (It is sometimes erroneously reported that he dedicated the stadium. That took place at a Razorback game with former Razorback player and future Lt. Governor Maurice “Footsie” Britt delivering the keynote.)
President Truman’s address took place inside War Memorial Stadium at 2:30 p.m.. It was not a brief dedicatory speech, but instead was a lengthy treatise on foreign affairs. The address was carried on nationwide radio. The text of his address can be found here.
The stadium was by no means full. A major reason for that was that many thousand individuals had turned out to witness a parade downtown in which President Truman marched along side Governor Sid McMath. The parade was in conjunction with the military reunion. Given the June heat in Arkansas (in which parade spectators had been standing for several hours) and the difficulty of getting from the parade route to the stadium, most (if not all) parade spectators opted for skipping the presidential address.
Before the parade, President Truman (who was still riding high from his upset victory in the 1948 election) was asked by a local reporter if he would run in 1952. He refused to answer stating that the national media would think he had planted the question with a local member of the press.
Prior to the name War Memorial Park, the land had been known as Fair Park. It was a former location of the State Fair. In the 1930s, it had briefly been known as Overman Park in honor of then-Mayor R. E. Overman. The City Council had named it for him as a tribute to his work on a variety of projects. When he displeased them, they reversed their decision and renamed it to Fair Park.
On June 10 and 11, 1949, President Harry S. Truman visited Little Rock. He was here to participate in activities connected to the reunion of the 35th Division Association. He had served in that division during World War I.
While he was in Little Rock, President Truman spoke several times. He generally was accompanied by Governor Sid McMath and Mayor Sam Wassell.
On June 10, he spoke at Robinson Auditorium as part of a welcome ceremony, at a reception at the Hotel Marion and at a ball held at Robinson Auditorium. His first address was at 3:48 pm and his final one was at 10:15 pm. The next day he spoke at a breakfast and at a luncheon at the Hotel Marion. He took pains at these times to stress he was here as a member of the 35th Division. He also participated in a parade.
In his Presidential role, he spoke at the dedication of War Memorial Park on June 11. His address took place inside War Memorial Stadium, which had been opened a few months earlier. It was not a brief dedicatory speech, but instead was a lengthy treatise on foreign affairs. The address was carried on nationwide radio. The text of his address can be found here.
President Truman would return to Little Rock in July 1952. He was in the state to speak at the dedication of Bull Shoals Dam. He did not make any formal remarks in Little Rock while in the city for that visit.
On June 10, 1936, President Franklin D. Roosevelt visited Little Rock as part of a day-long series of appearances in conjunction with the Arkansas Centennial celebration. (The actual statehood dates is June 15.)
His day started in Memphis before he journeyed by train to Hot Springs. After events there that morning and lunch at Couchwood (his longtime friend Harvey Couch was chairman of the Centennial celebration). He then traveled to Rockport and Malvern for appearances before arriving in Little Rock. He made his remarks at the State Fairgrounds in a structure called “Centennial Stadium.”
Following his remarks, which officially kicked off the six month Arkansas Centennial celebration, he retired to Senator Joseph T. Robinson’s house on South Broadway. He dined with the Robinsons in the house before departing with the Senator at 8:45 that evening. The Presidential entourage then journeyed to Texas for the next day.
On June 1, 1939, the cornice was installed on Robinson Auditorium. This granite slab noted the name of the building as the Joseph Taylor Robinson Memorial Auditorium. (It is interesting to note that it used the more modern “u” instead of the classical “v” which was often used in buildings during prior decades – as evidenced by the Pvlaski Covnty Covrt Hovse across the street.)
This was a milestone marking the completion of the front facade of the structure. Much work would continue on the interior of the structure. This step in the construction was considered major enough that the Arkansas Gazette mentioned it in a news article.
On this date in 2015 and 2016, the cornice was again surrounded by construction materials and braces. But the restoration of Robinson Center finished in November 2016. Once again, the cornice stands proudly atop the six columns with no impediments around it.
100 years ago today, John Fitzgerald Kennedy was born to Joe and Rose Kennedy, the second of nine children. Groomed for leadership by his parents, he was thrust even more into the path of political greatness following the World War II death of his elder brother Joe Jr. A war hero himself, following his leadership after the attack of PT-109, he was first elected to Congress from Massachusetts in 1946. He would be re-elected in 1948 and 1950. In 1952, he challenged incumbent Senator Henry Cabot Lodge and beat him. He was re-elected to the Senate in 1958.
Kennedy had been seen as a strong potential Vice Presidential candidate for the Democrats in 1956. But his father discouraged this fearing that a loss to Eisenhower/Nixon would set him back in the future. In 1960, the young, dashing Senator from the Bay State sought the Democratic nomination. After a contentious primary season where he often ran against senate colleagues, Kennedy headed into the Democratic convention with the most delegates. He added his chief rival, Texas Senator Lyndon Baines Johnson as his running mate.
After a close election, the Kennedy-Johnson ticket bested Vice President Richard Nixon and his running mate Henry Cabot Lodge (the selfsame former Senator who had been defeated by Kennedy 8 years earlier).
Following the oldest President (at the time), the young Kennedy administration seemed to captivate the country. During his 1000 days in office, Kennedy faced many challenges both foreign (Bay of Pigs, Cuba missile crisis, start of Vietnam) and domestic (civil rights, organized crime). His ambitious “New Frontier” focused on education, additional services to rural areas and medical care for the elderly. He also focused on getting the US to the moon.
On the personal front, in 1953 he married Jacqueline Bouvier. In addition to their daughter Caroline and son John Jr., who survived their father, the Kennedy’s had a miscarriage, a stillborn daughter, and son Patrick who died after two days.
Together with Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan, JFK embodied not only his generation but the mood of the country. And his quotes resonate today including:
My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.
Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.
Ich bin ein Berliner
On October 3, 1963, President Kennedy delivered remarks at the Arkansas State Fairgrounds. Only a few weeks later, he would be felled by an assassins bullet in Texas. In the speech, the President praised Arkansas’ congressional delegation including Senators John McClellan and J. William Fulbright and Congressmen Took Gathings, Bill Trimble, Wilbur Mills and Oren Harris. Each of these men held senior leadership positions in key committees. The main focus of the speech was to discuss President Kennedy’s vision for a new economy in the South.
The President was actually in the state to speak at the dedication of the Greers Ferry Dam. He agreed to make that appearance as a part of a negotiation with Congressman Mills as they were deadlocked over changes to the tax code. He had previously visited Little Rock in 1957 when he came to the state to address the Arkansas Bar Association meeting in Hot Springs.
Perhaps the most famous graduation ceremony in the long-storied history of Little Rock Central High took place on May 27, 1958. It was on that date that Ernest Green became the first African American to graduate from the formerly all-white school.
Among those in the audience to witness this historic event was an up and coming minister named Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. A friend of L. C. and Daisy Bates, he attended the 1958 Central High School graduation to witness Green receiving a diploma. Each senior only received eight tickets to the ceremony at Quigley Stadium. Dr. King was in the state to address the Arkansas AM&N (now UAPB) graduation. Because he was going to be nearby, Dr. King wanted to witness the history. Green did not know that Dr. King was in the stands until after the conclusion of the ceremony. Later that evening, Dr. King gave Green a graduation present of $15.
Because of fears about the event becoming a media circus, the Little Rock School District limited the press on the field to one Democrat and one Gazette photographer. Other press were limited to the press box normally filled with sportswriters covering the gridiron exploits of the champion Tigers. There were photos taken of Green prior to the ceremony as well as during the ceremony.
During the graduation rehearsal, there had been concerns that some students or other people might try to disrupt the practice. But it went off without a hitch. Likewise, the ceremony itself went smoothly. Local press reported that some members of the class briefly chatted with Green during the ceremony. That the event took place without incident was a relief on many levels to City leaders. Also in the class of 1958 were a son of Little Rock Mayor Woodrow Mann and a daughter of LRSD Superintendent Virgil Blossom.