MLK in Little Rock

Ernest Green, Dr. King and Daisy Bates share a relaxed moment — which was probably rare for the three in 1958

Today is the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday.  It is an apt time to think about Dr. King and Little Rock.

A friend of L. C. and Daisy Bates, he attended the 1958 Central High School graduation to witness Ernest Green receiving a diploma. Each senior only received eight tickets to the ceremony at Quigley Stadium, and he was one of Green’s. Dr. King was in the state to address the Arkansas AM&N (now UAPB) graduation earlier in the day.

His attendance was briefly mentioned in the local press, but there was no media photo of him at the ceremony.  The Little Rock School District limited the press to one Democrat and one Gazette photographer. Other press were limited to the press box.

There is a photo of Ernest Green with Daisy Bates and Dr. King (pictured on this entry).

In 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.

Mayor Borchert pledged City resources to strive for equality.

Another Little Rock Mayor, Sharon Priest, participated in a ceremony 24 years after Dr. King’s assassination to rename High Street for Dr. King in January 1992.  The name change had been approved in March 1991 to take effect in January 1992 in conjunction with activities celebrating Dr. King’s life.  At the ceremony, Daisy Bates and Annie Abrams joined with other civil rights leaders and city officials to commemorate the name change.

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18 Cultural Events from 2018 – Dedication of Elizabeth Eckford Bench

Sixty-one years after Elizabeth Eckford took the long walk down Park Street as she was trying to enter Little Rock Central High for her first day of classes there, she again went down the street. But on September 4, 2018, her journey was to celebrate the dedication of a new bench.

Met by a mob and kept out of the school by the soldiers she thought were there to protect her, Eckford finally made her way to a bus bench at Sixteenth and Park Streets.  This year, a replica of that bench is being dedicated at that location.

Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site collaborated with the Central High Memory Project students and additional partners for the ceremony.

September 4, 1957, was supposed to be the first day of school for the African American students who were selected to integrate Little Rock Central High School.  Due to the mobs gathered outside of the school and interference from Governor Orval Faubus, the students would not get in the school that day.

The most famous images from that day are the photos of Elizabeth Eckford walking in front of the school, only to be rebuffed by soldiers and tormented by the crowds. Elizabeth’s decision to walk through the mob of protesting segregationists to enter school, only to be turned away became world news. The story of the desegregation of Central High School was thrust into a defining role within the Civil Rights Movement. Elizabeth’s efforts to overcome the fear and uncertainty that she faced that morning resulted in her seeking refuge at a lonely bus stop bench.

In order to highlight this aspect of the story and create more personal connections with this turning point in history for students and visitors, the National Park Service and the Central High Memory Project Student Team will work with community partners in a new public history project.  The Bench Project includes building a replica of the bus stop bench, creating a mobile app for the students’ audio walking tour of eyewitness accounts of that first day of desegregation, and developing a storycorps recording booth for interviews and student podcasts.

The partnership includes: Bullock Temple C.M.E., Central High School and their EAST LAB, the Little Rock School District, the City of Little Rock, the Clinton School of Public Service, Central Arkansas Library System’s Butler Center for Arkansas Studies, Good Earth Garden Center, Friends of Central High Museum Inc., Home Depot, Little Rock Club 99 and other Rotary International Clubs,  Unity in the Community, and others.

Little Rock Look Back: A Bowl of Chili’s Role in Civil Rights

Minnijean Brown Trickey and Dent Gitchel at the 2006 chili cook-off (Richelle Antipolo/Flickr)

On December 17, 1957, perhaps the most famous chili bowl was dropped in the Central High cafeteria.

It was, of course, not just any chili bowl.  It was dropped by Minnijean Brown as she was being harassed by white students who were trying to make it difficult for her to navigate the cafeteria.

Balancing food on a cafeteria tray and maneuvering around narrow paths around chairs and tables can be difficult in the best of circumstances. But doing it when you are being harassed for the umpteenth time that day makes it even more of a challenge.

Reports differ as to whether she dropped the tray or let it slip. In the pandemonium of the moment, it may be six of one, half-dozen the other.  But what is not disputable is that the chili fell on a junior who was sitting at a table and not taking part in the harassment. That junior was future attorney and UA Little Rock Bowen School of Law professor Dent Gitchel.

While no one had stepped in to stop the pestering, after Minnijean had dropped the chili on Dent, officials swooped in and sent both students to the principal’s office.  Dent was sent home to change clothes.  Minnijean was suspended for six days.  This incident and suspension would be fodder for her foes who pressed for her eventual expulsion in February 1958.  (The student other student involved in that incident – a white female – was only suspended and later returned for the remainder of the school year.)

Minnijean and Dent went their separate ways.  While many knew about the chili episode, the name of the student who was on the receiving end had become forgotten.  It was not until many years later that his name was once again attached to it.  In 2005, he was named in an article in an historical journal.  By that time, he was a retired law school professor.  Later that year, he gave a brief interview to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette about it.

In March 2006, the Central High Museum Inc. board organized a chili cook-off as a fundraiser.  Minnijean and Dent reunited for the first time since December 1957 to serve as co-chairs and judges of the cook-off.  The other judge was Central High principal Nancy Rousseau.  There were nine chilies made by Little Rock area celebrities:  Mark Abernathy of Loca Luna and Bene Vita, “Broadway” Joe Booker of Citadel Communications, Dave Williams of Dave’s Place, Max Brantley of Arkansas Times, Michael Selig of Vermillion Water Grille, Pamela Smith of KATV, Channel 7, Sanford Tollette of the Joseph Pfeifer Kiwanis Camp, Scott McGehee of Boulevard Bread Co. and state Sen. Tracy Steele.

Eleven years ago – on the fiftieth anniversary of the incident — NPR did a story and interviewed by Minnijean and Dent.  In various interviews, Minnijean has commented that she told officials that day she knew that Dent was an innocent bystander.  In the few public statements he has made, Dent has commented that while he did not cause problems for the Nine, he also was not one of the very, very few white students who befriended them.  Today, they both focus their comments on the continued need for reconciliation as well as facing up to the issues in order to move forward.

So have a bowl of chili today. And think about how far we have come.  And how very far we still have to go.

Little Rock Look Back: In first day without 101st Airborne, LR Central plays final Thanksgiving game against NLR

Central dominating NLR in 1957

Central dominating NLR in 1957

The November 28, 1957, football game between Little Rock Central and North Little Rock had been poised to be memorable for a few years.

With the 1957 opening of Little Rock Hall High, the Tigers would switch their rivalry on Thanksgiving Day from a cross-river one to a cross-town one starting in 1958.  So the 1957 edition of Tigers vs. Wildcats was set to be historic as the end of a 24 year tradition.

(In its first year, Hall played smaller schools because its team was largely younger.  It would move up to top classification schools in the 1958 season.)

The events at Little Rock Central in September 1957 added a new layer of history to everything that school year.  The 101st Airborne was sent in by President Eisenhower in the evening of September 24 to ensure the Little Rock Nine were able to attend classes.  But President Eisenhower did not intend the Army to be there indefinitely.  On Wednesday, November 27, the soldiers left Little Rock. The National Guard was now charged with keeping the peace at Central.

The first day without the US Army was also Thanksgiving Day, and the final Bengals vs. Cats game.  The sports coverage of this game however belied all the drama off the field. News reports focused on Turkey Day as the final game between the longtime rivals and on the fact that it had a morning start time instead of the traditional afternoon start time.

In the end, the Tigers had the same result as they did in the first Turkey Day meeting: a win.  The Bengals scored 40 while the Cats only managed 7.

After 24 meetings on Thanksgiving Day, Little Rock had 19 wins, 4 losses, and one tie.  Seven times they shut out the Wildcats, and one time the northern team blanked them.  The fewest total points scored were 2 in the 1934 game, while the 1950 game produced a cumulative total of 71 points (LR 64, NLR 7).  The Tigers scored a total of 517 points over 24 games and gave up only 203.

Little Rock Look Back: Mr. 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.

Happy Birthday to 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.

Last month, a replica of the bench on which she sat on that first day in 1957 was unveiled.  Instead of sitting on a bench surrounded by taunters, this time she sat on a bench surrounded by cheers and applause.  The bench was the latest project of the Central High Memory Project which has also produced an audio tour which takes listeners down the street as Ms. Eckford experienced it in 1957.

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.

LR Culture Vulture turns 7

The Little Rock Culture Vulture debuted on Saturday, October 1, 2011, to kick off Arts & Humanities Month.

The first feature was on the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, which was kicking off its 2011-2012 season that evening.  The program consisted of Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 4 in A, Op. 90, Rossini’s, Overture to The Italian Girl in Algiers, Puccini’s Chrysanthemums and Respighi’s Pines of Rome.  In addition to the orchestra musicians, there was an organ on stage for this concert.

Since then, there have been 10,107 persons/places/things “tagged” in the blog.  This is the 3,773rd entry. (The symmetry to the number is purely coincidental–or is it?)  It has been viewed over 288,600 times, and over 400 readers have made comments.  It is apparently also a reference on Wikipedia.

The most popular pieces have been about Little Rock history and about people in Little Rock.