60 Years since the Labor Day bombings of 1959

ARKANSAS GAZETTE photos showing the exterior and interior of the LRSD building after the bomb blast.

On September 7, 1959, a peaceful Labor Day in Little Rock was shattered by the explosions of three dynamite bombs.

The locations were Fire Chief Gene Nalley’s driveway on Baseline Road at 10:20pm, Baldwin Company offices at Fourth and Gaines at 10:53pm (where Little Rock Mayor Werner Knoop was a partner–the company is now known as Baldwin Shell), and the School District offices at 10:58pm (then located at Eighth and Louisiana streets).

Given the three targets, it was fairly quickly assumed that there was a connection between the bombings and the lingering effects of the 1957 integration crisis. In light of that, police officers were stationed at the homes of all Little Rock City Directors and School Board members.

The investigation into the bombings turned up a purported fourth location for a bomb. That was the office of Letcher Langford. (Culture Vulture Editorializing Note:  This could have been a ploy to throw investigators off the scent. Langford was the only City Director who had been backed by segregationist candidates and had been openly hostile to the Women’s Emergency Committee — to the point of threatening them with legal action for not disclosing their membership rolls.)

Investigators determined that the bombing had been planned in late August by members of the Ku Klux Klan.  Five individuals were arrested.  They were J. D. Sims, Jesse Raymond Perry, John Taylor Coggins, Samuel Graydon Beavers, and E. A. Lauderdale.  The latter had twice been an unsuccessful candidate for the City Board of Directors.

Sims pleaded guilty and started serving a prison term later in September 1959.  Perry, Coggins and Beavers all went to trial in October and November.  Each was found guilty. Their terms ranged from three to five years.  Lauderdale was convicted, but appealed his decision. Though the Arkansas Supreme Court upheld the verdict against him, he did not start serving his sentence until the court decision in February 1961.

Governor Faubus commuted the sentences of Perry, Coggins and Beavers.  All three served less than six months.  Lauderdale’s sentence was reduced by Faubus so that he, too, was eligible for release after six months.  Sims, who was first to plead, served the longest: nearly two years.

Sadly, this would not be the last bombing in Little Rock tied to 1957. In February 1960, Carlotta Walls’ house was bombed.

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Little Rock Look Back: How LR reacted to Assassination of Dr. King

On April 4, 1968,  when Dr. King was assassinated, Little Rock did not see the unrest that many cities did.  Part of that was probably due to quick action by Governor Winthrop Rockefeller.

The Governor released a statement fairly quickly expressing his sorrow at the tragedy and calling for a day of mourning. He also made the State Capitol available for the NAACP to have a public memorial, as well as worked with a group of ministers to host an interdenominational service.

Little Rock Mayor Martin Borchert issued a statement as well:

We in Little Rock are disturbed about the incident in Memphis. We are disturbed regardless of where it had happened.  Killing is not the Christian solution to any of our problems today.

In Little Rock, we feel we have come a long way in 10 years toward solving some of our problems of living and working together regardless of race, creed or color.

The city Board of Directors in Little Rock has pledged itself toward continuing efforts to make Little Rock a better place in which to live and work for all our citizens.

We feel the efforts of all thus far have proved we can live in harmony in Little Rock and are confident such an incident as has happened will not occur in Little Rock.  We will continue our most earnest efforts toward the full needs of our citizens.

The day after Dr. King was assassinated, a group of Philander Smith College students undertook a spontaneous walk to the nearby State Capitol, sang “We Shall Overcome” and then walked back to the campus.  President Ernest T. Dixon, Jr., of the college then hosted a 90 minute prayer service in the Wesley Chapel on the campus.

On the Sunday following Dr. King’s assassination, some churches featured messages about Dr. King.  As it was part of Holy Week, the Catholic Bishop for the Diocese of Little Rock had instructed all priests to include messages about Dr. King in their homilies. Some protestant ministers did as well. The Arkansas Gazette noted that Dr. Dale Cowling of Second Baptist Church downtown (who had received many threats because of his pro-integration stance in 1957) had preached about Dr. King and his legacy that morning.

Later that day, Governor Rockefeller participated in a public memorial service on the front steps of the State Capitol. The crowd, which started at 1,000 and grew to 3,000 before it was over, was racially mixed. At the conclusion of the ceremony, Governor and Mrs. Rockefeller joined hands with African American ministers and sang “We Shall Overcome.”

That evening, Trinity Episcopal Cathedral was the site of an interdenominational service which featured Methodist Bishop Rev. Paul V. Galloway, Catholic Bishop Most Rev. Albert L. Fletcher, Episcopal Bishop Rt. Rev. Robert R. Brown, Rabbi E. E. Palnick of Temple B’Nai Israel, Gov. Rockefeller, Philander Smith President Dixon, and Rufus King Young of Bethel AME Church.

Earlier in the day, Mayor Borchert stated:

We are gathered this afternoon to memorialize and pay tribute to a great American….To achieve equality of opportunity for all will require men of compassion and understanding on the one hand and men of reason and desire on the other.

Women Making History: Myra Jones

The late, great Myra Jones was born on March 8. So today we highlight her.

Myra Jones was elected to the Little Rock City Board in 1976. She served eight years on the Board, including four years as Vice Mayor of Little Rock.  She was the first female to serve as Vice Mayor of Little Rock.  In a nod to changing times, she was the first woman to be referred to in the City minutes by her own first and last name instead of being Mrs. followed by her husband’s name.

From 1985 to 1998, she served seven terms in the Arkansas House of Representatives and was the first woman to chair a standing committee:  the City, County and Local Government Committee.

Following her retirement from the legislature, she continued in business. She served on the board of Noram Energy (formerly ArkLa) for seventeen years becoming one of the first women from Arkansas to serve on a Fortune 500 Board. She later served as a local affairs lobbyist for the real estate industry. She once again became a fixture at Little Rock City Hall until her death in 2012.

A graduate of Oberlin College, she was a lifelong musician and would return in the summer to her native South Dakota to play clarinet with the Belle Fourche Cowboy Band. She had first joined the band as a high school senior.  Once it was reconstituted in 1980, the band (complete with white chaps, white hats, and red shirts) would play for the Black Hills Rodeo in Belle Fourche, march in the Fourth of July parade, and perform concerts in the area.

Women Making History – City Director Lucy Dixon

Lucy Dixon was elected to the initial Little Rock Board of Directors in November 1957.  She previously had served for six years on the Little Rock School Board.

Mrs. Dixon is the only woman to have served on both the governing boards of the City and the school district.  Mrs. Dixon chose not to seek a second term and left the City Board on December 31, 1960.

Mrs. Dixon is the first woman to be elected to a City position without her husband having previously held that position.

Her father had a lumber business, in which she worked off and on throughout her lifetime. She served not only as an officer of the business, but had a desk at the office and participated in the daily business.  She was also very active in Methodist Woman functions in Little Rock and Arkansas.

Little Rock Look Back: 1959 Labor Day Bombings

Labor Day Bomb

ARKANSAS GAZETTE photos showing the exterior and interior of the LRSD building after the bomb blast.

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On September 7, 1959, a peaceful Labor Day in Little Rock was shattered by the explosions of three dynamite bombs.

The locations were Fire Chief Gene Nalley’s driveway on Baseline Road at 10:20pm, Baldwin Company offices at Fourth and Gaines at 10:53pm (where Little Rock Mayor Werner Knoop was a partner–the company is now known as Baldwin Shell), and the School District offices at 10:58pm (then located at Eighth and Louisiana streets).

Given the three targets, it was fairly quickly assumed that there was a connection between the bombings and the lingering effects of the 1957 integration crisis. In light of that, police officers were stationed at the homes of all Little Rock City Directors and School Board members.

The investigation into the bombings turned up a purported fourth location for a bomb. That was the office of Letcher Langford. (Culture Vulture Editorializing Note:  This could have been a ploy to throw investigators off the scent. Langford was the only City Director who had been backed by segregationist candidates and had been openly hostile to the Women’s Emergency Committee — to the point of threatening them with legal action for not disclosing their membership rolls.)

Investigators determined that the bombing had been planned in late August by members of the Ku Klux Klan.  Five individuals were arrested.  They were J. D. Sims, Jesse Raymond Perry, John Taylor Coggins, Samuel Graydon Beavers, and E. A. Lauderdale.  The latter had twice been an unsuccessful candidate for the City Board of Directors.

Sims pleaded guilty and started serving a prison term later in September 1959.  Perry, Coggins and Beavers all went to trial in October and November.  Each was found guilty. Their terms ranged from three to five years.  Lauderdale was convicted, but appealed his decision. Though the Arkansas Supreme Court upheld the verdict against him, he did not start serving his sentence until the court decision in February 1961.

Governor Faubus commuted the sentences of Perry, Coggins and Beavers.  All three served less than six months.  Lauderdale’s sentence was reduced by Faubus so that he, too, was eligible for release after six months.  Sims, who was first to plead, served the longest: nearly two years.

Sadly, this would not be the last bombing in Little Rock tied to 1957. In February 1960, Carlotta Walls’ house was bombed.

Happy Birthday to Jim Dailey! Little Rock’s 71st Mayor and current Director of Tourism for Arkansas

On July 31, 1942, Dalton James “Jim” Dailey, Jr. was born to Dalton and Ellen Dailey.   He would serve fourteen years as Little Rock’s 71st mayor and is now continuing his public service as the Director of Tourism for the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism.

After graduating from Little Rock Catholic High School, he attended the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville.  He graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration. He joined his father in the family business, Dailey’s Office Furniture.

In 1974, Dailey was elected to the City of Little Rock Board of Directors.  He served one four-year term. The last two years of that term, he was the Vice Mayor of Little Rock.

Following that term, he remained engaged in civic activities including serving in leadership capacities in community campaigns.  He also served as president of the National Office Products Association – the first Arkansan to do so.  Dailey also served as the founding chair of Leadership Greater Little Rock.

In 1988, Dailey was elected to return to the City Board.  He was reelected in 1992.  Dailey served as Vice Mayor in 1991 and 1992.  In January 1993, he was chosen by his fellow City Directors to serve a two year term as Mayor.  Under his leadership, the Future-Little Rock goal-setting process took place.

Following a voter-approved change to the City structure, the position of Mayor was changed to be elected by the people while maintaining the City Manager form of government.  On January 1, 1995, Jim Dailey was sworn in as the first popularly-elected Mayor of the City of Little Rock in over 38 years.

As Mayor, he served as Chair of the Intergovernmental Advisory Committee of the Federal Communications Commission. He was also a member of the United States Conference of Mayor’s Communications Task Force.  He also served as president of the Arkansas Municipal League in 2002 and 2003.

While he was Mayor of Little Rock, he was a strong proponent of the development of the River Market and worked to locate the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock.  He also worked to increase public safety support.  He also oversaw the establishment of Central Arkansas Water, the development of downtown headquarters for Acxiom Corporation and Heifer International, and the creation of Prevention, Intervention and Treatment programs.  In addition, he was instrumental in leading the efforts for the 40th anniversary of the integration of Little Rock Central High in 1997.

Mayor Dailey was re-elected in 1998 and 2002.  His fourteen years as Mayor of Little Rock set a longevity record.  Upon his retirement the City’s fitness center was renamed the Jim Dailey Fitness and Aquatic Center.  This was in recognition of his lifelong interest in wellness activities.

Since 1965, he has been married to the former Patti Murphy.  They have four children and six grandchildren.