Happy Birthday to Lottie Shackelford, who served as Little Rock’s 68th mayor

On April 30, 1941, future Little Rock Mayor Lottie Shackelford was born. Throughout her career in public service she has been a trailblazer.

Active in community activities and politics, she ran for the City Board in 1974 and lost.  But she was appointed to the Little Rock City Board in September 1978 to fill a vacancy.

This made her the first African American woman to serve on he City Board, and indeed on any governing board for the City (during Reconstruction, there were at least six African Americans on the City Council, but they were all men.) She was subsequently elected to a full-term on the City Board in 1980 winning 55% of the vote over three male candidates.

She was subsequently re-elected in 1984 (unopposed) and in 1988 (with 60% of the vote).

In January 1987, Shackelford became the first female mayor of Little Rock when she was chosen by her colleagues on the City Board to serve in that position. She was Mayor until December 1988.  During that time, Mayor Shackelford invited the Little Rock Nine back to the City to be recognized for the 30th anniversary of their integration of Central High School.

From 1982 until 1992, she served as Executive Director of the Arkansas Regional Minority Purchasing Council.  She left that position to serve as Deputy Campaign Manager of Clinton for President.  She subsequently served on the Clinton/Gore transition team. She later served on the Overseas Private Investment Corporation from 1993 to 2003. She was the first African American to be in that position.

A graduate of Philander Smith College, she has also studied at the Arkansas Institute of Politics at Hendrix College and the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

Mayor Shackelford has also served on numerous boards including the Little Rock Airport Commission, Philander Smith College, Chapman Funds (Maryland) and Medicis Pharmaceutical Corporation (Arizona).  She has the longest tenure of any serving as Vice-Chair of the Democratic National Committee.

Mayor Shackelford was in the first class of inductees for the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame.  In 2015, she was inducted into the Arkansas Civil Rights Heritage Trail.

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Women Making History – Dr. Sybil Jordan Hampton

Dr. Sybil Jordan Hampton made history as the first African American student to attend each high school year at and graduate from Little Rock Central High School.  But her impact on history exceeds that and extends into classrooms throughout Arkansas.

After a career which took her from elementary classrooms to corporate boardrooms, Dr. Hampton returned to Little Rock in 1996 to become the President of the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation.  In that capacity, she oversaw many opportunities to broaden the ways the arts and humanities were used in classrooms and outside of classrooms.  Dr. Hampton led the WRF until her retirement in 2006.  Through her vision and leadership, many tens of thousands of dollars of support went to cultural institutions and organizations during her decade at the helm.

In the mid-2000s, following the unexpected death of the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra’s executive director, Dr. Hampton served as acting executive director of the ASO while a national search could be conducted.  She had long been a supporter of the ASO and other cultural institutions as a patron.

During the Central High Integration 60th Anniversary, Dr. Hampton served as emcee of the Commemoration Ceremony.  A few months later, she received one of the LRCH Tiger Foundation’s first Award of Excellence. She has also been honored by inclusion in the Arkansas Civil Rights Heritage Trail and the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame.

She continues to be involved with Little Rock’s cultural life through her involvement in the Mount Holly Cemetery Association. She is a tireless advocate for this living museum of Little Rock’s past.

Last year, she was was interviewed by The HistoryMakers.  Recently, she was featured at Robinson Center when the public radio program “The Moth” recorded a show there.  L

 

Women Making History – Irma Hunter Brown

Irma Hunter Brown served in the Arkansas House of Representatives from January 1981 until January 2003.  She was the first African American woman to be elected to the Arkansas General Assembly in either house.

In 2003, she was sworn in as a State Senator, becoming the first African American woman in that body, as well.

In 2015, she was included in the Arkansas Civil Rights Heritage Trail.  Other honors include recipient of the Distinguished Citizen award, Philander Smith College, Little Rock, 1981; fellow, Institute Politics, 1975.

Little Rock Look Back: Suit filed calling to integrate LR public facilities

Attorney Wiley Branton, who filed the law suit

Attorney Wiley Branton, who filed the law suit

On March 8, 1962, 22 members of the Council on Community Affairs filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court against the city Board of Directors for the desegregation of “public parks, recreational facilities, Joseph T. Robinson Auditorium and all other public facilities.”  The members included journalists, dentists, attorneys, school teachers and other members of Little Rock’s African American professional class.  Attorney Wiley Branton, Sr., filed the suit.

Though the City’s Auditorium Commission was mentioned in the suit, they were not served with papers. So when media contacted them, they made no comment.

Historian John A. Kirk has written, “Members of the City Board were willing to admit that the desegregation of public facilities was ‘a foregone conclusion’ if the case went to court, but they remained committed to fighting the lawsuit if only to buy time to devise other methods to avoid desegregation.”

The decision was rendered in February 1963 that the City must integrate its public facilities.

In 1951, the City’s library facilities had been integrated followed by the bus system in 1956. Both of these had been accomplished without incident.  Of course the same was not said for the integration of the public schools in 1957.

In 1961, there had been attempts to have Robinson Auditorium integrated after Duke Ellington threatened to cancel a concert rather than play to a segregated crowd.  The Auditorium Commission refused to change its policy, and Ellington did not play the concert.

Based on efforts of the Council of Community Affairs working with white business leaders, downtown lunch counters and businesses were integrated starting in January 1963.  The efforts of the Council of Community Affairs and the white business leaders are commemorated in the Arkansas Civil Rights Heritage Trail with medallions in front of the Little Rock Regional Chamber building.

Women Making History – Lottie Shackelford

Lottie Shackelford served as mayor of Little Rock from January 1987 until December 1988. She was Little Rock’s 68th mayor and the first woman to serve in that capacity.

She was first appointed to the Little Rock Board of Directors in September 1978 to fill an unexpired term.  She later was elected in her own right and served until December 1992.  She was the first African American woman to ever serve on a governing body for the City of Little Rock.

She later served two terms on the Little Rock Airport Commission.  She also served as Vice Chairman of the Democratic National Committee from 1989 until 2014. She is the longest serving vice chair of the party.  She has been a delegate to every Democratic National Convention since 1980.

In recognition of all of her achievements, she has been included in the Arkansas Civil Rights Heritage Trail, the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame, and the Arkansas Women’s Hall of Fame.

Little Rock Look Back: Charles E. Bussey Jr. born 100 years ago

Today marks the centennial of the birth of future Little Rock Mayor Charles Bussey.  Born in Stamps on December 18, 1918, he would spend his adult life in Little Rock (after college and World War II service).

Throughout his life he was a trailblazer. He was the first African American Sheriff’s Deputy in Pulaski County and expanded the Junior Deputy program into the African American community.

In 1968 he became the first African American elected to the Little Rock City Board of Directors. He was not the first African American to run for the City Board, but he was the first to win a race. Mr. Bussey sought support not just from the African American community, but from all sectors of Little Rock.

Apparently, while campaigning in 1968, he deliberately went into the Arkansas headquarters of segregationist presidential candidate George Wallace to see about leaving campaign literature. A hulking man with a broad smile, he shocked the young receptionist. He was undoubtedly the first (and probably last) African American to enter that campaign headquarters.

He served from 1969-1977 and again from 1979 through 1991. In 1981 he was selected by his fellow City Directors to serve as Little Rock’s Mayor, which made him the first African American Mayor of Little Rock. He served as Assistant Mayor of Little Rock for a total of 8.5 years which is the longest of anyone in the City’s history.

Throughout his lifetime Mayor Bussey championed youth outreach efforts. He also was active in the Arkansas Municipal League, National League of Cities, West Little Rock Rotary Club, Elks, Shriners and many other organizations.

In 2006 he was posthumously inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame. The previous year, 20th Street in Little Rock was renamed in his honor. In 2015 he was included in the Arkansas Civil Rights Heritage Trail.

At the 2005 street naming ceremony, the following remarks about Mayor Bussey were made:

Little Rock Mayor Jim Dailey (who was mayor in 2005 and had served on the City Board of Directors with Bussey)  “Charlie’s heart was in this City, so it is fitting that this street bearing his name goes right through the heart of Little Rock. Especially in those early days on the Board, even before I served with him, African-Americans were really struggling to be involved.  He helped so many people to be involved in Little Rock and the entire state.”

Johnnie Pugh, who was City Director for Ward 1 at the time noted: “He certainly made Little Rock a better place for children and youths.  Those that he touched have grown up and continued to be engaged in making the City a better place for everyone.”

In a letter written by former Mayor Lottie Shackelford, Bussey was described as “a first class dresser who spent much of his working life in and around City Hall.  He was a man always on the move who worked to make Little Rock a first class city.”

The late Myra Jones, a former State Representative and LR City Director, served as Assistant Mayor when Bussey was Mayor.  Remembered Bussey “would tell me who to see, but never tell me what the purpose was.  That was for me to discover; and in so doing, it made me a better Director.”

Larry Staggers, a longtime employee in the City’s Parks & Recreation Department called Bussey, “an extraordinary man in an extraordinary time.”

Remembering Mahlon Martin on what would have been his 73rd birthday

On July 19, 1945, future Little Rock City Manager Mahlon A. Martin was born in Little Rock.

After graduating in 1963 from Horace Mann High School, he attended Philander Smith College.  (He had received a baseball scholarship to Grambling, but chose to remain in Little Rock to be near his ailing grandmother.)  Martin graduated from Philander Smith in 1967 with a degree in business administration.

After working in the private sector for two years, Martin was hired by City Manager Jack T. Meriwether to work for the City of Little Rock in 1969 after the City had received a Model Cities grant.  Martin started working with community organizations and then became promoted to the City’s recruiting officer.

In 1972, he was named to leadership posts at the four-county Central Arkansas Manpower Program.  Three years later, he returned to the City of Little Rock to work on the staff of City Manager Carleton McMullin.  In 1976, Martin was named Assistant City Manager for Little Rock.

Martin left City Hall in 1979 to become a top executive at Systematics, Inc.  However, his stint in the private sector was short-lived.  In 1980, the City Board of Directors asked him to come back and be Little Rock’s sixth City Manager.  At thirty-four, he was one of the youngest chief administrators of a major city in the country and the first African American City Manager for Little Rock.

In 1983, Governor Bill Clinton asked him to join the state of Arkansas as the Director of the Department of Finance and Administration.  He was the first African American to lead that or any major Arkansas state department.  Throughout his tenure with the State, he oversaw numerous initiatives to restore the state to sound financial footing.

Martin joined the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation as president in 1989.  He held that position until his death in 1995.

The name Mahlon Martin lives on in a son and grandson named after him, in an apartment complex on south Main Street, in a street in Clinton Presidential Park, and in the City of Little Rock’s Employee of the Year award.  The latter was created by City Manager Bruce T. Moore in 2004.  At the time Moore noted that Martin had been so popular while City Manager, “It was said you could criticize the Razorbacks to a City of Little Rock employee, but you better not say anything bad about Mahlon Martin to them.”

In 2001, Mahlon Martin was posthumously inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame.  A decade later, the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies created a fellowship in his memory.  It supports research and programming in the field of public policy in Arkansas.  In 2015, he was included in the Arkansas Civil Rights Heritage Trail.