Little Rock Culture Vulture

Cultural events, places and people in the Little Rock area


Women’s History Month – Lillian Dees McDermott

glass-mcdermottLillian Dees McDermott served on the Little Rock School Board from 1922 to 1946.

Not only was she the first woman to be elected to the School Board, she was also one of the longest-serving members of the board.  She was elected several times to serve as President of the School Board, becoming the first woman to have that title.  During one of her terms, plans to construct Little Rock High School (now Central) and Dunbar High School (now Dunbar Middle School) were finalized.

In her capacity as President, she had to sign contracts. She became the first woman in the country to sign a multi-million dollar contract for a public building project.  McDermott Elementary is named in her memory.

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Turkey Day Football in LR – An Overview

thanks-grid-lrc-lrh102 years ago, Little Rock High School (then located on Scott Street) kicked off a 69-year tradition of playing football on Thanksgiving Day.  (Though the date of Thanksgiving floats anywhere from the 22nd to the 28th, Thanksgiving Day 1914 was on November 26.)

From 1914 until 1933, the Little Rock High School Tigers played a variety of different schools.  Then from 1934 until 1957, they played North Little Rock. From 1958 until 1982, the Little Rock Central Tigers took on the Warriors of Little Rock Hall.

Thanksgiving Day football was a tradition not just for high schools in Little Rock but also all levels throughout the state and country.  The Friday after Thanksgiving, newspapers carried stories and scores for professional, college and high school football.  It was probably the only day of the year to see all three levels of football covered in the paper, and often high school games received the most ink.  This mix of football continued for decades.  In 1969, there were four football games played in Pulaski County on Thanksgiving Day: Little Rock Hall vs. Little Rock Central, Little Rock Catholic vs. North Little Rock, Horace Mann vs. Scipio Jones, and the Arkansas Razorbacks vs. Texas Tech.

By the 1970s, both high school and college football games on Thanksgiving were on the wane.  While college games on Turkey Day have regained some popularity, they are nowhere near approaching the level they once had.  High school football on Thanksgiving disappeared in Arkansas following the 1982 game between Hall and Central.  That rivalry had been the final series on Turkey Day to still be played.

While they lasted, Thanksgiving Day high school football games were civic focal points. They were about bragging rights.  For students who had grown up attending the games, the chance to play or cheer in a Turkey Day classic was a rite of passage.  Alumni home from college or visiting the family for Thanksgiving would descend on the stadium ensuring the largest attendance of the season.

High school football on Thanksgiving Day in Little Rock tells the tale of not just football; it reflects changes in the city and society.  What started out as two small high schools from neighboring cities changed as both schools grew. The addition of a second Little Rock high school reflected the city’s growth.  (Indeed the 1954 Little Rock High School yearbook, in discussing the school’s new designation as Central High, mentions vaguely that the second high school would be built at some yet to be determined location in “west” Little Rock.)

The presence of segregated high schools in separate but unequal football rivalries (lasting nearly two decades after the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board decision) is an indictment of an unjust parallel education system.  As Little Rock continued to grow and diversify, the two high schools playing on Thanksgiving were no longer always the predominant schools in football – or other activities.  With state championships once again on the line, the last few years of the Hall and Central Thanksgiving rivalry were, in a way, a return to the halcyon days of the early faceoffs (though this time, thankfully, with fully integrated teams). In addition to trading the top spots in football, the two schools were piling accolades. In fact, all three Little Rock public high schools had achieved a stasis that inadvertently rotated areas of excellence academically, athletically and artistically fairly equally among the three.

There were undercurrents at work that hinted at future instabilities to come.  Indeed by 1982, the same year of the final game, Little Rock had filed suit against the North Little Rock and the Pulaski County Special School Districts claiming the schools in those neighboring districts were siphoning off white students from the Little Rock schools. The ensuing realignment of schools and districts would probably have brought an end to Central vs. Hall games even if athletic reclassification had not.

Central is now much larger than Hall, Parkview is a magnet school, two formerly county high schools (and several elementary schools and junior highs) were brought into the LR school district in the late 1980s.  Where once the Little Rock high schools were roughly equal in enrollment, they now are so varied they play in three different classifications.

It is up to the alternative historians to envision what continued Turkey Day classics would have looked like after 1982. Little Rock has grown and diversified. There are six public high schools and five private high schools playing football within the Little Rock city limits each season. With all these competing interests it is unlikely to envision the same citywide level of interest in one football game.

But back in the day…


Black History Month Spotlight – Horace Mann High School

Mann-SignThe new Arkansas Civil Rights History Audio Tour was launched in November 2015. Produced by the City of Little Rock and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock allows the many places and stories of the City’s Civil Rights history to come to life an interactive tour.  This month, during Black History Month, the Culture Vulture looks at some of the stops on this tour which focus on African American history.

Horace Mann Senior High School opened in 1956 as one of two new Little Rock public high schools, after the 1954 U. S. Supreme Court Brown v. Board of Education school desegregation decision. Mann was built in the predominantly black eastern part of Little Rock, while Hall High was in a predominantly affluent and white western area of residence. This plan ensured that, in practical terms, both schools would remain racially segregated. The assignment of an all-black teaching faculty to Mann and an all-white teaching faculty to Hall underscored this intent.

After Mann was built, the school board transferred black students from Dunbar High, the city’s existing segregated black high school, to Mann. Dunbar then became a junior high school. Teachers were divided and reassigned, new principals were named, and the school mascots respectively became the “Dunbar Bobcats” and the “Horace Mann Bearcats.” The schools are now Horace Mann Arts and Science Magnet Middle School and the Dunbar International Studies Magnet Middle School. In 2012, both alumni groups combined to form the National Dunbar Horace Mann Alumni Association.

The app, funded by a generous grant from the Arkansas Humanities Council, was a collaboration among UALR’s Institute on Race and Ethnicity, the City of Little Rock, the Mayor’s Tourism Commission, and KUAR, UALR’s public radio station, with assistance from the Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau.


2015 In Memoriam – Milton Crenchaw

1515 Crenchaw

In these final days of 2015, we pause to look back at 15 who influenced Little Rock’s cultural scene who left us in 2015.

Milton Pitts Crenchaw, was one of the first in the country to be trained by the federal government as a civilian licensed pilot. While an instructor at the Tuskegee Institute, he trained hundreds of cadet pilots and started the aviation program at Philander Smith College.

Crenchaw graduated from  Dunbar High School and attended Dunbar Junior College before enrolling at the Tuskegee Institute in 1939.  After the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, his focus shifted from living the life of a normal college student to flying in the Civilian Pilot Training Program (CPTP), sponsored by the Army Air Corps, and becoming a flight instructor.

Early in his career, Crenchaw worked as a civilian pilot training officer contracted by the military. Crenshaw instructed scores of pilots and cadets, including Judge Robert Decatur, Charles Flowers, Lieutenant Colonel Charles (Chuck) Dryden, Earl V. Stallcups, and fellow Arkansan Woodrow Crockett.  Crenchaw returned to Little Rock and taught aviation at Philander Smith from 1947 to 1953. He was also employed by the Central Flying Service and worked as a crop-duster in the central Arkansas and Delta regions.

Then he served as a flight instructor at several airbases from 1953 until 1972.   In 1972, with over 10,000 hours on record logged in the air, Crenchaw was signed on as an equal employment opportunity officer with the Department of Defense and as a race relations officer at Fort Stewart in Georgia until 1983.

Crenchaw was inducted into the Arkansas Aviation Hall of Fame in 1998. Nine years later, he was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame.  He was also honored by Governor Mike Beebe in 2007 and the City of Little Rock in 2012.   On March 29, 2007, Crenchaw, along with the other members of the Tuskegee Airmen, was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal by President George W. Bush in Washington DC.


2015 In Memoriam – Ozell Sutton

1515 Sutton

In these final days of 2015, we pause to look back at 15 who influenced Little Rock’s cultural scene who left us in 2015.

Ozell Sutton was a writer and eyewitness to history, while making some of his own too.

Born in Gould, he moved with his family to Little Rock and graduate from Dunbar High School and Philander Smith College. In 1950, he became the Arkansas Democrat‘s first African American reporter.

He was at Central High when the Little a Rock Nine integrated, marched with Dr Martin Luther King Jr. in Washington in 1963 and was with Dr King when he was assassinated in 1968.

He served as an aide to Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller from 1968 to 1970. From 1972 to 2003 he work for the U.S. Department of Justice Community Relations Service in Atlanta. In that capacity he was often on the forefront in efforts to diffuse racially tense situations.

In 1962, he received an honorary doctorate from Philander Smith in recognition of his political activism in the civil rights movement. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Award by the Department of Justice in 1994.  He also was awarded the Medallion of Freedom by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

In 2012, he was presented with the Congressional Gold Medal in recognition for his being one of the first African Americans to serve in the Marine Corps. His book “From Yonder to Here:” A Memoir of Dr. Ozell Sutton was published in 2009.  In 2013, he was honored by inclusion on the Arkansas Civil Rights Heritage This designation came for his work in 1963 to desegregate downtown Little Rock’s businesses.

Ozell Sutton was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame in 2001.


PIGSKIN TURKEY DAY IN THE ROCK, Part 4 – Horace Mann vs. Scipio Jones

Turkey Day MannFrom the 1930s to the early 1960s, Thanksgiving Day high school football in Arkansas was the time for big rivals to meet.  In addition to Little Rock playing NLR (later morphing into Central playing Hall), many a Thanksgiving Day schedule involved seeing Jonesboro face off against Paragould or El Dorado play Camden. Fayetteville vs. Springdale, Morrilton vs. Conway, Newport vs. Batesville, and DeQueen vs. Texarkana were all longtime traditions.

In these days, football classifications were much more fluid.  It would not be until the 1960s that the Arkansas Activities Association would permanently institute state playoffs in football.  This led to the demise of Thanksgiving Day games throughout the state.  Either the schools were not in the same classification and/or they were in a classification that had playoffs starting in mid-November.  Gone were the days when a regular football season extended from September to Thanksgiving.

The two exceptions to this were the largest classification of schools and the segregated African American schools.  The largest class, which eventually became known as the AAAAA (it had previously been the Big 6, 8, 9–whatever number of schools were in it), had few enough members that they were all in one conference.  A conference championship was tantamount to a state championship.

The African American schools were ignored in athletics as they were in other areas.  While the schools fielded teams and played each other, they did not have playoffs or Arkansas Activities Association recognized championships.  Up through the late 1950s, a mention of their games in the Arkansas Gazette or Arkansas Democrat was rare.

For several years, Little Rock’s Dunbar High School Bearcats took on the Scipio Jones Dragons of North Little Rock on Thanksgiving Day.  Due to the lack of coverage in newspapers, there are few records of these games.  Unfortunately the yearbooks of neither school shed any light. Due to limited budgets which led to thinner yearbooks, the football team usually got one page that was devoted to showing the players and left no room for details about their exploits on the gridiron.

In the 1955-1956 school year, Little Rock opened a new high school for African American students – Horace Mann High School. The Bearcat mascot of Dunbar (now a junior high) became the new Horace Mann mascot.  Mann carried on the tradition of playing Jones on Thanksgiving.

Many seasons the African American LR-NLR football game was the second meeting of the two teams.  They usually played against each other in September and then again on Thanksgiving.  This second game seems to have been as much about ensuring that their students, fans, and alumni had the chance to have a Thanksgiving Day game – just as most white schools throughout the state had.

Due to the lack of African American high schools fielding football teams in Arkansas, often the LR and NLR schools would also play out-of-state teams.  While it was not unusual for Little Rock’s white high school to play teams from other states, this was because of prestige, not necessity.  The same luxury was not afforded African American schools.  In 1963, for instance, Horace Mann played teams from Oklahoma, Tennessee, Louisiana and Texas.  Their in-state rivals that year were segregated schools in North Little Rock, El Dorado, Pine Bluff (two schools), Camden, Hope, Hot Springs and Texarkana. Horace Mann’s travel schedule was much more extensive than either Central or Hall had on a weekly basis.

From 1956 through 1965, Mann and Jones met at Wildcat Stadium. After that season, the Thanksgiving game would alternate between Wildcat and Quigley.  Since the Central v. Hall and NLR v. Catholic matchups were in the morning, the Mann v. Jones games were afternoon affairs.

As the Little Rock School District was gradually integrating its high schools in the 1960s, the Mann vs. Jones game continued.  (North Little Rock was even slower in integrating its high school than LR had been with its high schools. Both seemed to be more focused on the “deliberate” part of the Supreme Court directive than on the “speed” aspect.)   With the demise of Jones High in the spring of 1970, the Mann vs. Jones series ended.

Because of the lack of records of the Dunbar games, here is the breakdown only of the Mann games.  In the fourteen Mann vs. Jones games, Horace Mann won ten of the outings, while Jones captured four.  The Bearcats shut out the Dragons twice, while NLR only once blanked LR.  Horace Mann scored 332 points over the fourteen Thanksgiving games to Scipio Jones’s 126 points.

 

Horace Mann Scipio Jones

1956

14 0

1957

27

13

1958

0

13

1959

40

7

1960

45

0

1961

31

6

1962

31 18

1963

14

20

1964 27

6

1965 51

9

1966

20 7

1967

13 14
1968 19

13

1969 8

19

 


Heritage Month – Paul Laurence Dunbar High School

dunbarNow known as Dunbar Middle School, this building originally house students from junior high to junior college.  For years the Paul Laurence Dunbar High School was known throughout Arkansas and the south as an outstanding school for African American students.

From 1929 until 1955, Dunbar High School provided a high-quality education for African American students, not only within Little Rock but also from far-reaching corners of the state.   Today the National Dunbar Alumni Association is a well-organized network of former students with active chapters throughout the United States. 

The school is located in a residential area south of downtown Little Rock. George H. Wittenburg and Lawson L. Delony designed the edifice, built on a southeast-northwest axis. Both architects contributed to the design of Little Rock Central High School (1927; listed on the National Register in 1977), which is nine blocks west of Dunbar.

Dunbar was designed to accommodate an academic curriculum as well as the more traditional vocational programs often considered the limit of education for blacks. In 1980, Dunbar Junior and Senior High School and Junior College was listed on the National Register.

The significance of Dunbar Junior High School derives both from the unique place it occupies in the history of education in Arkansas and from the modern architectural concepts with which it was designed. Dunbar was a center of quality education for black Arkansans in the state’s segregated public school system, functioning as a junior high school, high school, and junior college until its last high-school and junior-college classes graduated in 1955.

It had further distinction as one of only two industrial arts schools in the south to attain junior college rating, also in 1931-1932, as well as the recognition and acceptance of the Dunbar curriculum as the basis for admission to colleges and universities throughout the United States. In 1943 the school was involved in a controversy concerning equal pay for black and white teachers in the Little Rock School System, which was resolved in Morris v. Williams, 149 F. 2d 703, heard before the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. This was a landmark case in establishing the principle of “equal pay based on professional qualifications and services rendered.”

The architects’ achievement in designing an architecturally eminent setting for this progressive passage in Arkansas history is also noteworthy. With an eye toward form following function, the plan of the building promotes maximum use of space and expedient circulation. Aesthetically, the building is decidedly modern, with decorative brick and stone work and striking towers reflecting an interest in the Art Deco style of the period.