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.”

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Little Rock Look Back: Ages of Little Rock Mayors

With the election of Frank D. Scott, Jr., as Little Rock’s next mayor, there have been questions about the ages of Little Rock’s past mayors.

Mayor-elect Scott will become Little Rock’s 73rd mayor when he takes office on January 1, 2019..  There have been sixty-six other men and women serve as mayor of Little Rock.  Much like Grover Cleveland is counted twice in the list of US presidents because of serving non-sequential terms, there have been six men who have served non-sequential terms as Little Rock’s mayor and are therefore counted twice.

Of the seventy-three mayors of Little Rock (including Mayor-elect Scott), the ages are known of fifty-eight at the the time they took office.

Of those fifty eight, the youngest mayor of Little Rock was Eli Colby. He took office in 1843 at the age of 28.  The next youngest is Pat L. Robinson who took office a month after turning 29.

The oldest person to take office as mayor was 66 year old Haco Boyd in 1969. The next oldest was 64 year old David Fulton in 1835.

The average age upon taking office is 45.

The largest gap of years between the ages of sequential mayors at the start of their terms was 31 years. Webster Hubbell was 31 when he took office in 1979. He was succeeded by 62 year old Charles Bussey in 1981.

The shortest gap of ages of sequential mayors at the start of their terms was roughly one year.  W.W. Stevenson and Elijah A. More (yes he spelled his name with only one “O”).  In 1833, Stevenson took office at the age of 35. The next year, More took office at the age of 34. Stevenson’s birthday was on January 29 and More’s was on January 20.

Here is the list of the ten youngest mayors of Little Rock at known age of starting their term:
1. Eli Colby — 28 in September 1843
2. Pat L. Robinson  — 29 in April 1929
3. Webster L. Hubbell — 31 in June 1979
4. J. G. Botsford — 32 in January 1871
5. William E. Ashley — 33 in January 1857
6. John E. Knight — 34 in January 1851 (34 years and 3 months)
7. Harold E. “Sonney” Henson, Jr. — 34 in January 1965 (34 years and 5 months)
8.  Elijah A. More – 34 in January 1834 (34 years and 11 months)
9.  Frank D. Scott, Jr. – 35 in January 2019 (35 years and 1 month)
10. Thomas A. Prince – 35 in January 1985 (35 years and 4 months)

187 years since Little Rock was chartered

With the stroke of Territorial Governor John Pope’s pen, Little Rock was officially chartered as a town on November 7, 1831. This followed approval by the Arkansas legislature a few days earlier.

As a chartered, officially recognized municipality, the Town of Little Rock was authorized to create a government and to plan for a Mayor and Aldermen to be elected. That election would take place in January 1832 with the initial council meeting later that month.

There are several earlier and later days which could be used to mark Little Rock’s official birth (La Harpe sighting in 1722, first settler in 1812, permanent settlement in 1820, selection of trustees in 1825, chartered as a City in 1835, chartered as a City of First Class in 1875) — but it is November 7, 1831, which has been the officially recognized and accepted date.

In 1931, Little Rock celebrated her centennial with a series of events.  Likewise, in November 1981, Little Rock Mayor Charles Bussey signed and City Clerk Jane Czech attested Resolution 6,687 which recognized the Little Rock sesquicentennial.

30 Years of the City of Little Rock Flag

On October 18, 1988, the City of Little Rock Board of Directors adopted the first official flag for the City of Little Rock.

The adoption of Ordinance No. 15,566 was the culmination of a design competition which had been spearheaded by Little Rock City Director Sharon Priest (later Little Rock Mayor, Arkansas Secretary of State and Executive Director of the Downtown Little Rock Partnership).

Prior to the Official Board of Directors meeting that day, a press conference was held in the Little Rock City Board Chambers for presentation of the City’s flag.  The City Beautiful Commission, a commission of the Department of  Parks and Recreation, sponsored a the contest which received a total of fifteen flag designs.

The flags were judged October 12, 1988, by City Directors and City Beautiful Commission Members. Director Sharon Priest presented the winning flag and introduced David Wilson, a law clerk at the Mitchell Law Firm, who designed the flag chosen for the $1,000 first prize. The second-place winner was Craig Rains, who received $500; and the third-place recipient was David Tullis, who received $250.

The flag was adopted by the City Board that night by a 6-0 vote; former mayor and current director Charles Bussey was absent.  Those voting to adopt the flag were Mayor Lottie Shackelford and directors Sharon Priest, Tom Prince, Buddy Villines, Buddy Benafield and Tom Milton.  Priest would be a future mayor while Prince, Villines and Benafield had all served as mayor.

The official description of the flag is as follows:

As the official flag of the City of Little Rock, its symbolism is described as follows: A clean white background of the banner represents the optimism and open potential that the city has to offer. The royal blue horizontal broad stripe symbolizes the Arkansas River which borders Little Rock, and has served as an economical and historical emblem since the city’s beginning. The forest green stripe runs vertical to the royal blue stripe, creating a cross which symbolizes the location and statute of Little Rock—a city serving not only as the crossroads of Arkansas, but a crossroad of the mid-southern United States as well.

The strong forest green color depicts the fields, parks and forests which contribute to the natural beauty of the city. The seal of the flag is a modernized adaptation of the current Little Rock seal. The razorback red silhouette of the great State of Arkansas shows her capitol, the City of Little Rock, represented by the centered star. The star rises directly above “The Little Rock”—the protruding cliff along the Arkansas River, which was discovered in 1722 by French explorer La Harpe, when the city was given the name. The Arkansas River behind the rock and the symmetrical oak leaves in the border of the seal are a stylized illustration of what the flag’s stripes represent—the natural beauty of the city. Finally, the gold color of the seal and bordering stripes symbolize the superior economic history, and the future economic potential that is available in the City of Little Rock, Arkansas.

Little Rock Look Forward: Happy Birthday Annie Abrams

September 25 is the birthday of Annie Mable McDaniel Abrams.

Miss Annie or Mother Abrams or Mrs. Abrams.  Whatever you call her, she greets you with a smile, a hug, and sage advice.

As both a historian and a futurist, she has turned her house into a museum and library. As a writer and preservationist, she has worked to document history and ensure historical properties and neighborhoods will long remain in Little Rock.

Born in Arkadelphia, she moved to Little Rock at age 13 to attend Dunbar Junior High School and High School.  She studied education at Dunbar Junior College and later taught in Marianna. In 1956, she returned to Little Rock to work for the Arkansas Teachers Association.  After her return to the capital city, she married Orville Abrams.  In addition to raising her four children, Miss Annie has helped raise countless others through her advice, support, love, and sometimes strong admonitions.  She also found time to return to school and receive a degree from Philander Smith College.

Among her many accomplishments are leading efforts to rename High Street for Martin Luther King, 14th Street for Daisy L. Gatson Bates and 20th Street for Charles Bussey.  Through her community activities, she had worked closely with both Bates and Bussey.  She was a friend to the Little Rock Nine (who were only a few years younger than she) and to their families. Perhaps, because she has been a personal friend of many Arkansas and national politicians over the past 60 years, it should come as no surprise that she and her husband were also acquainted with Governor Faubus.

Whether a leading political figure or a small child, Miss Annie isn’t afraid to give advice or to share her love.  Once an educator, always an educator, she loves to learn and teach. It is rare for her to miss a speech at the Clinton School or a Political Animals Club meeting.  (She is the Helen Thomas of the Political Animals Club — always given the first question when she is present.)

In recognition of all her efforts she has been recognized with an honorary doctorate from Philander Smith College, the Brooks Hays Award, and an award award from the national Martin Luther King Jr. Commission.  In 2010, she was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame.

LR Women Making History – Annie Abrams

Annie Mable McDaniel Abrams is a retired educator by trade and civic activist by avocation.  She is included in this list because she is also a historian.  As a writer and preservationist, she has worked to document history and ensure historical properties and neighborhoods will long remain in Little Rock.

Born in Arkadelphia, she moved to Little Rock at age 13 to attend Dunbar Junior High School and High School.  She studied education at Dunbar Junior College and later taught in Marianna. In 1956, she returned to Little Rock to work for the Arkansas Teachers Association.  After her return to the capital city, she married Orville Abrams.  In addition to raising her four children, Miss Annie has helped raise countless others through her advice, support, love, and sometimes strong admonitions.  She also found time to return to school and receive a degree from Philander Smith College.

Among her many accomplishments are leading efforts to rename High Street for Martin Luther King, 14th Street for Daisy L. Gatson Bates and 20th Street for Charles Bussey.  Through her community activities, she had worked closely with both Bates and Bussey.  She was a friend to the Little Rock Nine (who were only a few years younger than she) and to their families. Perhaps, because she has been a personal friend of many Arkansas and national politicians over the past 60 years, it should come as no surprise that she and her husband were also acquainted with Governor Faubus.

Whether a leading political figure or a small child, Miss Annie isn’t afraid to give advice or to share her love.  Once an educator, always an educator, she loves to learn and teach. It is rare for her to miss a speech at the Clinton School or a Political Animals Club meeting.

In recognition of all her efforts she has been recognized with an honorary doctorate from Philander Smith College, the Brooks Hays Award, and an award award from the national Martin Luther King Jr. Commission.  In 2010, she was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame.

For more on Annie Abrams and other inductees into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame, visit the permanent exhibit at the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center. That museum is an agency of the Department of Arkansas Heritage.

Happy 186 to Little Rock!

With the stroke of Territorial Governor John Pope’s pen, Little Rock was officially chartered as a town on November 7, 1831. This followed approval by the Arkansas legislature a few days earlier.

As a chartered, officially recognized municipality, the Town of Little Rock was authorized to create a government and to plan for a Mayor and Aldermen to be elected. That election would take place in January 1832 with the initial council meeting later that month.

There are several earlier and later days which could be used to mark Little Rock’s official birth (La Harpe sighting in 1722, first settler in 1812, permanent settlement in 1820, selection of trustees in 1825, chartered as a City in 1835, chartered as a City of First Class in 1875) — but it is November 7, 1831, which has been the officially recognized and accepted date.

In 1931, Little Rock celebrated her centennial with a series of events.  Likewise, in November 1981, Little Rock Mayor Charles Bussey signed and City Clerk Jane Czech attested Resolution 6,687 which recognized the Little Rock sesquicentennial.