RIP Donna Axum

News outlets are reporting that Arkansas’ first Miss America, Donna Axum, has died.

A native of El Dorado and a student at the University of Arkansas, during her reign as Miss America Miss Axum (or simply Donna as the newspaper headlines referred to her) made four public visits to Little Rock.  As the first Miss Arkansas to become Miss America, the state’s Capitol City was very interested in giving her a warm welcome.

After being crowned on September 7, 1963, Axum’s first official visit to Arkansas was November 1 through 3.  In addition to stops in Hot Springs and El Dorado, she appeared in Little Rock to attend events including an Arkansas Razorback football game at War Memorial Stadium.  Her entourage included the top four runners up from the Miss America pageant.

In February 1964, she made a brief appearance in Little Rock which included a press conference.

Donna Axum spent nearly two weeks in Arkansas in May 1964 attending several pageants as well as spending time with family.  During that visit she appeared in Little Rock twice.  The second time she headlined a concert with the Arkansas Symphony (not related to the current Arkansas Symphony Orchestra) and the Arkansas Choral Society. It took place at Robinson Auditorium.

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Little Rock Look Back: Hogs vs. Ole Miss in Little Rock

It appears that the first meeting of the Arkansas Razorbacks and Ole Miss Rebels in Little Rock was in 1913. That would have been at Kavanaugh Field (now the site of Quigley Stadium on the campus of Little Rock Central High School).

On November 15, 1913, the two squads faced off in only the second gridiron match between the schools. The Razorbacks were on the losing end of a 21 to 10 score.

The next year, on November 14, 1914, the two teams again met in Little Rock. Because of the use of an ineligible player by Ole Miss, the Razorbacks count this as a victory by a score of 1 to 0 due to a forfeit.  Ole Miss, to this day, disputes that fact and counts it as a 13 to 7 win over the Hogs.  Due to the dispute, the teams would not meet again until 1924.

On October 25, 1924, the Hogs and Rebels resumed their football face off and returned to Little Rock.  That day, the Razorbacks (under third year coach Francis Schmidt) dominated Ole Miss by a score of 20 to 0.  This would be the final time the two teams would meet in Little Rock for over two decades.  Most of their games would be in Memphis during the intervening years.

The series returned to Little Rock on October 25, 1952.  This would be the first time the two teams would meet in War Memorial Stadium. It was in the final of Otis Douglas’ three unremarkable seasons as coach of the team.  The score reflected the disappointments of his tenure as the Razorbacks managed only 7 points to Ole Miss’s 34.

When the Hogs returned to War Memorial two years later to face Ole Miss (October 23, 1954), both teams were nationally ranked. Arkansas was number 7 and Ole Miss was number 5.  The result was a 6-0 upset of Ole Miss on a 66-yard touchdown pass from Bob Benson to Preston Carpenter known to Razorback fans as the “Powder River Play.” After the season, coach Bowden Wyatt left to coach at his alma mater, Tennessee.

In his three seasons as coach, Jack Mitchell led the Razorbacks against Ole Miss in Little Rock only once. But that single entry on October 27, 1956, was a Hog victory. Ole Miss was again held scoreless while the Hogs ended the game with fourteen points. Prior to the game, Ole Miss had been undefeated. (The Razorbacks also would hand the Rebels their first defeat of the season the following year in Jackson.)

On October 25, 1958, first year coach Frank Broyles would lead his Razorbacks into Little Rock to face 6th ranked Ole Miss. It was Broyles’s second appearance in Little Rock following a 12 to zero defeat by Baylor in his inaugural Hogs game. While the Razorbacks lost the game to Ole Miss by a score of 14 to 12, it was in this game that a Broyles-led team scored its first points in Little Rock.

October 22, 1960, saw Broyles and the Hogs return to Little Rock to face Ole Miss.  This time both teams were nationally ranked. Arkansas was 14 and Ole Miss was 2.  After a defensive slugfest, Ole Miss escaped with a 10 to 7 win over the Hogs.  Though Arkansas lost, they actually rose in the national polls to number 12 the following week.

It would be over twenty years before the two teams would again play each other in Little Rock.  On September 25, 1982, the 9th ranked Razorbacks met the unranked Rebels.  This would be coach Lou Holtz’s penultimate season as head coach for the Hogs, though no one knew it at the time. (Except possibly athletic director Frank Broyles.)  The team that season was captained by Gary Anderson, Jessie Clark, Richard Richardson, and Billy Ray Smith.  Arkansas escaped with a 14 to 12 victory. Perhaps because of the closeness of the game, the team fell to number 10 for the following week.

Ken Hatfield’s first game as Hogs head coach was in Little Rock against Ole Miss.  The date was September 15, 1984.  The outcome of the game was a tie.  Both sides scored fourteen points. His other two Little Rock entries that first season would be wins (Texas Tech 24-0, Rice 28-6).

Two years later (September 13, 1986), Hatfield’s Hogs again started the season in Little Rock against Ole Miss. This time Arkansas was ranked 18 while Mississippi was unranked.  The Hogs team (captained by James Shibest, Derrick Thomas, and Theo Young) dominated Ole Miss and ended the game with a final score of 21 to 0.

September 17, 1988 was the next time the two teams met in Little Rock.  That year Hatfield’s team was captained by Steve Atwater, John Bland, Odis Lloyd, and Kerry Owens.  Both teams were unranked for this game.  The Hogs again scored 21 points, but this time Ole Miss scored 13.  While not as convincing a win as two years prior, it was still a victory for the Hogs.

In 1990, new head coach Jack Crowe led the Razorbacks to War Memorial to face Ole Miss.  The Hogs were ranked 13 while Ole Miss was unranked.  Arkansas lost by a score of 21 to 17. The team would fall ten spots in the polls and be out of the polls for the remainder of the season shortly thereafter.

Interim head coach Joe Kines did not have much better luck against Ole Miss in Little Rock.  On October 17, 1992, the two teams met for the first time at War Memorial Stadium as conference foes. This was the first season after the Hogs had made the jump to the SEC.  Ole Miss left win a 17 to 3 win.

With the conference switch, the scheduling of Hogs vs. Rebels games entered a new phase. For the next twenty years the teams would alternate between Fayetteville and Oxford MS for games.  Hogs coaches Danny Ford, Houston Nutt, and Bobby Petrino never coached a Razorback team against Ole Miss in Little Rock.  (Though all coached plenty of games against Ole Miss and in Little Rock.)

When the 2012 season was announced, it looked like Bobby Petrino would coach the Hogs against Ole Miss in Little Rock. However due to an off-season incident, by the time the October 27, 2012, game came around, the Razorbacks were coached by John L. Smith.  In what would be his only season leading the team, Arkansas lost the Little Rock game to Ole Miss by a score of 30 to 27.  That is the most recent meeting of the teams in Little Rock until 2018.

Over all the Razorbacks lead the series against the Rebels by a tally of 36 to 27 to 1.  In Little Rock, the record is 7 wins, 7 losses, and 1 tie.

Little Rock Look Back: 1958 Election continues LR High Schools closure

Signs placed outside of Little Rock’s high schools erroneously cited the federal government as the source of school closures. They also had a glaring spelling error.

On Saturday, September 27, 1958, voters in Little Rock approved the continuation of the closure of the city’s high schools.

Using legislation passed by the General Assembly in a hastily called special session in summer of 1958, Governor Orval Faubus had ordered the closure of Little Rock’s four public high schools in order to keep them from being desegregated.

But that state law only allowed the closure of Central, Hall, Horace Mann and Technical high schools on a temporary basis. In order for them to be closed permanently, the city’s voters must approve it by a vote.

The election date was to be set by Governor Faubus.  Originally scheduled for Tuesday, October 7, the date was moved to September 27.  Speculation for the new date selection centered on:

  • Faubus wanted it to be prior to the October 1 poll tax deadline so that only people who had paid their poll tax for the prior year were eligible
  • The election was on a Saturday.  Though Tuesday was the most common day of the week for elections, in the late 1950s Saturdays were used on elections as well.  The school board elections, for instance, were on Saturdays in some years.
  • On September 27, 1958, the Arkansas Razorbacks had a home football game in Fayetteville.

These were all designed to stifle voter turnout. In addition, the state law required a majority of eligible voters to approve reopening the schools.  The law also spelled out the confusing wording of the ballot question.  As historian Sondra Gordy points out in her book FINDING THE LOST YEAR, the ballot question was about only being for or against integration of the schools – it did not say anything about closure or opening of schools.

While the newly formed Women’s Emergency Committee did put forth efforts to educate voters about the issue and encourage a vote to reopen the schools, this nascent group was less than a fortnight old by the Saturday election day.  On the other side, the Governor campaigned for the remaining closure of the schools including in television appearances.

On that Saturday, Little Rock voters voted 19,470 to keep schools segregated to 7,561 to integrate them.

The WEC was disappointed but remained even more determined.  As some of the members have commented – having over 7,000 people be WITH them was encouraging.

It would be a long road ahead to reopen the schools.  It would take two more elections before the City’s four public high schools would reopen.

Little Rock Look Back: War Memorial Stadium opens on Sept 18, 1948

On September 18, 1948, the Arkansas Razorbacks took on Abilene Christian and won the game by a score of 40 to 6.  It was the first game of the season, and the Razorbacks went into the game ranked #13. They maintained that ranking for four weeks before falling out of national standings.  The team ended up with a season record of five wins and five losses. Playing four of their games at War Memorial that season, they were two and two in Little Rock. They were one and two in Fayetteville and amassed a 2-1 record on the road.

Dedication ceremony in 1948. Photo courtesy of the War Memorial Stadium Commission.

Dedication ceremony in 1948. Photo courtesy of the War Memorial Stadium Commission.

Prior to the game, the stadium was dedicated to the veterans of World War I and World War II in a ceremony led by former Razorback standout and Medal of Honor recipient Maurice “Footsie” Britt.

Though Britt would later be known for entering politics and becoming Arkansas’ first Republican Lieutenant Governor, in his college days he was known statewide as an outstanding Razorback football and baseball athlete.  During World War II, his bravery and courage allowed him to become first person in American history to earn all the army’s top awards, including the Medal of Honor, while fighting in a single war.

Also participating in the opening ceremony were a mass of high school marching bands from across the state. Reports indicate up to forty bands were on the field to play the National Anthem as part of the event.

The construction of the stadium had been the brainchild of Razorback coach John Barnhill and Arkansas Secretary of State C. G. “Crip” Hall.  The duo shepherded it through the 1947 Arkansas General Assembly.   As a student at the University, Hall had been a team manager for the Razorbacks and had remained a longtime, active supporter.

In August of 1947, Little Rock was chosen as the location over Hot Springs and North Little Rock. West Memphis had abandoned its bid when it was unable to secure the necessary financial pledges.  Construction started in 1947 and continued up until opening day.  On the day of the game, newspaper photos showed heavy equipment grading the parking lot prior to paving.

The park in which the stadium sat would be renamed War Memorial Park in June 1949 and dedicated by President Harry S. Truman in a nationally-broadcast ceremony from War Memorial Stadium.

How a former Little Rock alderman played a role in the naming of Razorback’s stadium

Razorback Stadium as it would have looked when it was Bailey Stadium

What is now known as Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium first opened in September 24, 1938 as University Stadium.  A few days later it was renamed to Bailey Stadium in honor of Arkansas’ then current governor, Carl Bailey.  He had just been renominated to a second two year term and was expected to easily glide to a victory in November over a nominal GOP opponent, which he did.

Two years later, Homer Adkins, a former Little Rock alderman who had been aligned with Bailey foe Joe T. Robinson, challenged Bailey as the latter sought a third term.  Bailey and Adkins had long been opponents, but had never faced off personally.  In the August 1940 primary, Adkins bested Bailey.

The animosity between Bailey and Adkins apparently stemmed from the time that Bailey, as prosecuting attorney, filed charges against a friend of Sen. Robinson.  Though the friend was eventually pardoned, Robinson and his political circle did not forgive Bailey.  The fact that Bailey backed Brooks Hays, who opposed Robinson, did not help matters.  By the mid 1930s, Arkansas Democrats were clustered around either Bailey or Adkins.

Adkins had served on the Little Rock City Council from April 1930 until April 1934.  He previously had been Sheriff of Pulaski County.  At the suggestion of Sen. Robinson, President Roosevelt had appointed Adkins as collector of internal revenue. Given all of the federal programs that took place in Arkansas throughout the 1930s, Adkins was well positioned to strengthen his political network.  He stepped down from the job when he challenged Bailey in 1940.

Obviously, by 1941 the new governor was none too pleased that the football stadium of the state’s flagship university bore the name of his vanquished foe.  By the time the 1941 football season came around, the stadium was known as Razorback Stadium.  It held that name from 1941 until the September 8, 2001, rechristening with its current name.

And what of Adkins and Bailey?  The two longtime foes united to back Sid McMath in his gubernatorial efforts. But the reconciliation was only for political purposes.  However, both lie buried in Roselawn Cemetery in Little Rock.

Little Rock Look Back: Arkansas’ first Miss America comes to Little Rock

Tonight a new Miss America will be crowned.  The competition has had a tumultuous year with many changes behind the scenes as well as alterations to the event format.

It seems a good time to hearken back to a earlier, simpler time when Donna Axum first brought the Miss America title to Arkansas.

A native of El Dorado and a student at the University of Arkansas, during her reign as Miss America Miss Axum (or simply Donna as the newspaper headlines referred to her) made four public visits to Little Rock.  As the first Miss Arkansas to become Miss America, the state’s Capitol City was very interested in giving her a warm welcome.

After being crowned on September 7, 1963, Axum’s first official visit to Arkansas was November 1 through 3.  In addition to stops in Hot Springs and El Dorado, she appeared in Little Rock to attend events including an Arkansas Razorback football game at War Memorial Stadium.  Her entourage included the top four runners up from the Miss America pageant.

In February 1964, she made a brief appearance in Little Rock which included a press conference.

Donna Axum spent nearly two weeks in Arkansas in May 1964 attending several pageants as well as spending time with family.  During that visit she appeared in Little Rock twice.  The second time she headlined a concert with the Arkansas Symphony (not related to the current Arkansas Symphony Orchestra) and the Arkansas Choral Society. It took place at Robinson Auditorium.

Little Rock chosen as site for War Memorial Stadium on August 9, 1947

As has been noted in a previous post, War Memorial Stadium was approved by the Arkansas General Assembly in March 1947.  The work then began on the finalization of the location.

Four cities were in the running:  Little Rock, North Little Rock, Hot Springs, and West Memphis.  Each of the cities was required to donate the land for the stadium, provide parking for it, and sell local subscriptions equivalent to $250,000 to raise money for it as well.

On May 19, 1947, the City Council approved Resolution 1,747 to donate the land for the stadium in Fair Park if Little Rock was selected.  This was not the first mention of a stadium in City records.  In March of 1947, the City Council had set aside land in Fair Park to use for a playground — with the stipulation that if it was eventually needed for a stadium, it would be relinquished for that purpose.

On August 9, 1947, the War Memorial Stadium Commission met in the House Chambers of the Arkansas State Capitol to select the location for the stadium.  West Memphis dropped out prior to the meeting; they had not been able to raise the sufficient local funds.  That left the three remaining cities.  (Cities had until June 24 to file paperwork expressing their interest in applying and were to submit their proposals by August 1.)

Instead of meeting in a usual committee room, the meeting was held in the House Chambers of the State Capitol.  The location for the meeting had been set because a large crowd was expected.  And the attendance did not disappoint.  City government and business leaders from all three cities turned out in full force.

The members of the Commission were Ed Keith, Chairman, Magnolia; Gordon Campbell, Secretary, Little Rock; Ed Gordon, Morrilton; Senator Lee Reaves, Hermitage; Senator Guy “Mutt” Jones, Conway; Dallas Dalton, Arkadelphia; Judge Maupin Cummings, Fayetteville; Dave Laney, Osceola; and Leslie Speck, Frenchman’s Bayou.

For several hours the nine heard proposals from the three cities.  Little Rock’s location was in Fair Park, North Little Rock’s was near its high school, and Hot Springs was on land next to Highway 70 approximately 2.5 miles from downtown.  Finally it was time to vote.  After two rounds of voting, Little Rock was declared the winner on a weighted ballot.

The north shore’s leadership was magnanimous in their defeat.  Hot Springs, however, was far from it.  In the coming days they filed suit against the Stadium Commission alleging flaws in Little Rock’s proposal as well as improprieties by members of the commission.  A preliminary decision sided with the state.  Ultimately, Hot Springs’ relatively new mayor Earl T. Ricks opted to drop the suit.  The Spa City’s business community was concerned that fighting the location might delay construction – and could negatively impact legislative and tourists’ feelings toward Hot Springs.  (And it was entirely possible that the State Police could have been used to “discover” that there was gambling going on in Hot Springs.)

Though ground was broken later in the year, by December 1947, the stadium was still $250,000 shy of funding for the construction.  This was after the state and Little Rock had previously both upped their commitments to $500,000 each.

The building did eventually open on schedule in conjunction with the 1948 Arkansas Razorback football games.

As for Mayor Ricks of Hot Springs, he moved to Little Rock to serve as Adjutant General of the Arkansas National Guard during the governorship of Sid McMath.  He later held leadership positions in the National Guard Bureau in Washington DC.  He died in 1954 at the age of 45.  Among the ways he was memorialized was a National Guard armory in Little Rock, which stood in the shadow of War Memorial Stadium.