Little Rock Culture Vulture

Cultural events, places and people in the Little Rock area


Little Rock Look Back: J. N. Heiskell

At the age of 87, J. N. Heiskell in 1960.

John Netherland (J. N.) Heiskell served as editor of the Arkansas Gazette for more than seventy years.  He was usually called “Mr. Heiskell” by all, but a very few confidantes felt confident to call him “Ned.”

Mr. Heiskell is the person most responsible for Robinson Center Music Hall being located at the corner of Markham and Broadway.  As Chair of the Planning Commission and editor of the Arkansas Gazette he had twin bully pulpits to promote this location when those on the City Council (who actually had the final say) were looking at other locations.  He felt the location would help create a cluster of public buildings with its proximity to the county courthouse and to City Hall.  Mr. Heiskell finally succeeded in winning over the mayor and aldermen to his viewpoint.

He was born on November 2, 1872, in Rogersville, Tennessee, to Carrick White Heiskell and Eliza Ayre Netherland Heiskell. He entered the University of Tennessee at Knoxville before his eighteenth birthday and graduated in three years at the head of his class on June 7, 1893.

His early journalism career included jobs with newspapers in Knoxville and Memphis and with the Associated Press in Chicago and Louisville. On June 17, 1902, Heiskell’s family bought controlling interest in the Arkansas Gazette. Heiskell became the editor, and his brother, Fred, became managing editor.

Governor George Donaghey appointed Heiskell to succeed Jeff Davis in the United States Senate after Davis’s death in office. Heiskell served from January 6, 1913, until January 29, 1913, when a successor was chosen by the Arkansas General Assembly.  His tenure is the shortest in the U. S. Senate history.  His first speech on the Senate floor was his farewell.  He was also only the second US Senator to live to be 100.

On June 28, 1910, Heiskell married Wilhelmina Mann, daughter of the nationally prominent architect, George R. Mann. The couple had four children: Elizabeth, Louise, John N. Jr., and Carrick.

In 1907, he joined a successful effort to build the city’s first public library. He served on the library board from that year until his death and was issued the first library card.  He also served on the City’s Planning Commission for decades.  In 1912, he was instrumental in bringing John Nolen to Little Rock to devise a park plan.

In the paper and in his own personal opinions, he crusaded on a variety of progressive causes.  Perhaps the most famous was the Gazette’s stance in the 1957 Central High desegregation crisis.  It was for this effort that the paper received two Pulitzer Prizes.

Although Heiskell stopped going to the office at age ninety-nine, he continued to take an active interest in the newspaper. He began by having a copy of the newspaper delivered to his home by messenger as soon as it came off the press each night. Eventually, he switched to having his secretary call him daily at his home and read the entire newspaper to him. He operated on the premise that “anyone who runs a newspaper needs to know what’s in it, even to the classified ads.”

A few weeks after turning 100, Heiskell died of congestive heart failure brought on by arteriosclerosis on December 28, 1972. He is buried in Little Rock’s Mount Holly Cemetery.  Interestingly, he is buried in the same cemetery as two of his most notable adversaries: Governor Jeff Davis, and segregationist Congressman Dale Alford.

Mr. Heiskell donated his vast papers to UALR. They are part of the Arkansas Studies Institute collection. These papers give insight into not only his career as a journalist, but also his political and civic affairs.  Thankfully he saved much of his paperwork. Without it, much insight into Little Rock in the 20th Century would be lost.

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Central to Creativity – Phyllis Brandon

Phyllis D. Brandon played a unique role in shaping and supporting Little Rock’s cultural life.  As the first and longtime editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette‘s High Profile section, she promoted cultural institutions, supporters and practitioners.

Since it started in 1986, being featured in High Profile has been akin to the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.  It exposes cultural institutions and events to new and wider audiences.  There is no way to put a monetary measure on the support Brandon gave to Little Rock’s cultural life during her time leading High Profile from 1986 to 2009.  From 2009 to 2011, she served as editor of Arkansas Life magazine, again supporting and promoting cultural life.

With her unassuming manner, she coaxed stories out of interview subjects and captured photos which highlighted events.  A journalist since her junior high school days in Little Rock, Brandon has also been a witness to history.  As a recent graduate of the University of Arkansas, Brandon returned to her alma mater, Little Rock Central High, to cover the events in early September 1957 for the Arkansas Democrat.  Eleven years later, she was in Chicago for the contentious and violent 1968 Democratic National Convention as a delegate.

From 1957 until 1986, she alternated between careers in journalism and the business world, as well as being a stay-at-home mother.  Upon becoming founding editor of High Profile, she came into her own combining her nose for news and her life-long connections within the Little Rock community.  As a writer and photographer, she created art in her own right. A look through High Profile provides a rich historical snapshot of the changes in Little Rock and Arkansas in the latter part of the 20th Century and start of the 21st Century.


Central to Creativity – Bruce Moore

Today’s feature is not a Central alum or faculty member – but he has been an active supporter of Central High School and is looking forward to being the father of a Central High student in a few years.

Bruce T. Moore was appointed as Little Rock City Manager on December 17, 2002, after having served as Assistant City Manager since April 1999. Prior to that appointment, he served in a variety of capacities with the City of Little Rock including Assistant to the Mayor and Assistant to the City Manager.

Bruce is one of a very few people who worked on the 40th, 50th, and 60th anniversary commemorations of the 1957 integration of Little Rock Central High.  He served as Chair of the 60th anniversary activities.

As City Manager, Bruce is the principal adviser to the governing body on all operational matters pertaining to the overall direction and administration of municipal government overseeing nearly 2,500 employees and a budget of $222.6 million. In addition, he served as the lead City Staff person for the development of William Jefferson Clinton Presidential Center and Park in downtown Little Rock.

Brucehas a Master of Public Administration degree from Arkansas State University and a Bachelor of Science degree from Henderson State University. He is a member of the International City/County Management Association (ICMA), Arkansas City Manager’s Association (ACMA), immediate Past President of the National Forum of Black Public Administrators (NFBPA) Board of Directors, Chair of the Henderson State University Board of Trustees, Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors and Downtown Little Rock Partnership Executive Board. He has been the recipient of the Just Communities of Arkansas Humanitarian Award, one of Arkansas Business’ “40 Under 40” and the United States Army Commendation Medal/Operation Desert Storm.

Bruce was selected by the United States/Japan Foundation as one of twenty Americans to participate in a two-year business and cultural exchange program with Japan. He also completed the Senior Executive in State and Local Government Program at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, and is a graduate of Leadership Greater Little Rock. Bruce is Co-Chair of the Board of City Year Little Rock, and was recognized by City Year as the 2011 Red Jacket Ball honoree.


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Central to Creativity – Nancy Rousseau

Though not a graduate of Little Rock Central High School, Nancy Rousseau is a Central High Tiger through and through.

She has been principal of Little Rock Central High School since the summer of 2002. Born in New York, she graduated high school in Tenafly, New Jersey.  After attending Ohio University, she graduated from Adelphi University with a degree in English education.  Her first job was teaching in Port Washington, NY, where she won the “New Teacher of the Year” award.  After teaching in Midwest City, Oklahoma, she arrived in Little Rock in 1976.

From 1976 until 1986, she taught English at Pulaski Academy.  After receiving her master’s degree in educational administration from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, she was hired by the Little Rock School District as an Assistant Principal at Central High School.  From 1991 until 1998, she served in that capacity. During that time, she worked on the planning for the 40th anniversary of the integration of Central High by the Little Rock Nine.

In 1998, she became principal of Pulaski Heights Junior High School.  She led the school’s transition from a junior high to a middle school.  When the position of Central High School principal became open in 2002, she applied for the job.

Since returning to Central as its principal, Mrs. Rousseau has been a very visible champion of the school, its students, faculty and alumni.  She served as co-chair for the Central High Integration 50th Anniversary Commission.  During her tenure, the school’s physical plant has been upgrade and much of the historic façade and interior has been restored.  A Central High Alumni Association and a Tiger Foundation have been formed.  Through their effort, the arts, academics and athletics have been enhanced.

Mrs. Rousseau also participated in the planning for the 60th anniversary of the school’s integration.  She is one of a very few who worked on the 40th, 50th and 60th anniversaries.


Little Rock Look Back: Elizabeth Eckford

After 60 years, the most dramatic images of the 1957 crisis at Little Rock Central High School remain those of 15-year-old Elizabeth Eckford, being taunted as she walked through a hate-filled mob, on her way to school.  Today, Ms. Eckford recalls how difficult it was for her parents, Oscar and Birdie, to allow her to continue the struggle to integrate the Little Rock schools.

Born on October 4, 1941, she grew up in Little Rock.  Because all of the city’s high schools closed her senior year, Ms. Eckford moved to St Louis, where she obtained her GED. She attended Knox College in Illinois, and received her BA in History from Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio.  While in college, Ms. Eckford became one of the first African Americans to work in a local St. Louis bank, in a non-janitorial position, and later she worked as a substitute teacher, in Little Rock public schools.

Ms. Eckford, a veteran of the U.S. Army, has also worked as a substitute teacher in Little Rock public schools, test administrator, unemployment interviewer, waitress, welfare worker, and military reporter.  Along with her fellow Little Rock Nine members, she is a recipient of the NAACP’s Spingarn Medal and the prestigious Congressional Gold Medal.  Together with one of her former tormenters, Ms. Eckford also received a Humanitarian award, presented by the National Conference for Community and Justice (NCCJ), following their meeting 34 years after an apology.  The award recognizes forgiveness and atonement.  They talked to students for two years, and, together, attended a 12-week racial healing course.

Ms. Eckford has started to walk through the painful past in sharing some of her story.  She has said that true reconciliation can occur if we honestly look back on our shared history. She believes that the lessons learned from Little Rock Central High School must continue to be shared with new generations, reminding audiences that “the dead can be buried, but not the past.”  Ms. Eckford continues her interest in education by sharing her story with school groups, and challenges students to be active participants in confronting justice, rather than being passive observers.

Ms. Eckford lives in Little Rock, and is a probation officer for the First Division Circuit Court of Pulaski County.


Little Rock Look Back: LR Voters ratify closing of high schools

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Signs placed outside of Little Rock’s high schools erroneously cited the federal government as the source of school closures.

On 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 try 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.  In addition, 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.

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.


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Little Rock Look Back: Gloria Ray Karlmark

Gloria Ray Karlmark is the youngest daughter of H. C. Ray, son of a former slave, and founder of the Arkansas Agricultural Extension Service for Negroes, and Julia M. Ray, a Sociologist and a graduate of Tuskegee Institute and Philander Smith College. Mrs. Karlmark’s father was Laboratory Assistant to George Washington Carver, and received his degree in Horticulture under Booker T. Washington at Tuskegee Institute.  Mrs. Karlmark’s mother was fired when she refused to withdraw her from Little Rock Central High School in 1957-1958.  When Central High School remained closed, on an order from Governor Faubus the following year, Mrs. Karlmark moved to Kansas City, Missouri, where she graduated in 1960 from the newly integrated Kansas City Central High School.

Mrs. Karlmark went on to graduate from Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT), Chicago, after which she joined the IIT Research Institute as Assistant Mathematician on the APT IV Project (robotics, numerical control, and online technical documentation).  This included work at Boeing in Seattle, McDonnell-Douglas in Santa Monica, and NASA Automation center in St. Louis.

In 1969, she and her husband took a sabbatical year following the trail of the Maya Indians from Mexico through Central America by car.  Soon after, they immigrated to Sweden.  In the years that followed, the Karlmark family was blessed with a son and a daughter.

Recruited to join IBM’s Nordic Laboratory, Mrs. Karlmark completed the Svenska Patent och Registreringsverket “Patent Examiner” Program in 1975, and joined IBM’s International Patent Operations as European Patent Attorney.

In 1976, she co-founded Computers in Industry, and international journal of practice and experience of computer applications in industry affiliated with UNESCO and the International Federation of Information Processing-IFIP.  She served some 15 years as Editor-in-Chief.

In the years leading up to her retirement in 1994, Mrs. Karlmark also worked for Philips International in management as a specialist in Belgium, the Netherlands, France, Germany, Spain, and Scotland.  She and her family currently reside in Europe.