Tag Archives: Dwight Eisenhower

Little Rock Look Back: Little Rock Nine enter Central High for First Full Day

After legal challenges, stymied attempts, and literally countless threats, it was on Wednesday, September 25, 1957, that the group of African American students known as the Little Rock Nine actually entered Little Rock Central High School for a full day.  They would return each day through the end of the school year.

Unlike September 23, when they went in a side door before being hustled a few hours later for their own protection, on September 25 they walked in the front door.  They did so escorted by members of the 101st Airborne who had been ordered to Little Rock by President Eisenhower.

Much has been written about the events of September 25, 1957.  Several of the participants that day have penned memoirs.

Whatever I would write today would pale in comparison to the accounts of those who lived it.

So I just end this with words of gratitude to:

  • Melba Pattillo Beals
  • Elizabeth Eckford
  • Ernest Green
  • Gloria Ray Karlmark
  • Carlotta Walls LaNier
  • Terrence Roberts
  • Jefferson Thomas
  • Minnijean Brown Trickey
  • Thelma Mothershed Wair

Thank you to these nine pioneers, who were simply teenagers trying to have equal education opportunities.  Thank you to their parents, their families, their pastors, their legal team, their support system.  Thank you to Daisy and L. C. Bates, Wiley Branton Sr. Chris Mercer, and Thurgood Marshall for the roles they played.

While Jefferson Thomas passed away in 2010, the other eight continue to tell their stories and speak truth to audiences ranging from one to thousands and ages from pre-school to seniors.

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Little Rock Look Back: Ike sends the 101st

On September 24, 1957, President Dwight Eisenhower ordered the 101st Airborne to Little Rock to ensure that the Little Rock Nine would be able to enter Central High School.

In a thirteen minute televised White House address to the nation, President Eisenhower stated he had acted to prevent “mob rule.”  The President made his decision about the troops while vacationing in Rhode Island. But he flew to Washington DC to deliver the address from the White House. In his remarks, he stated that he felt it was important to discuss this action from the house of Lincoln.

Following the President’s noontime decision, 1,000 members of the 101st Airborne Division were flown to Little Rock.  In addition, all 10,000 members of the Arkansas National Guard were “federalized.”

Earlier in the day, Little Rock Mayor Woodrow Mann had pleaded with the President and US Attorney General for federal intervention.  He stated that the Little Rock police could not quell the crowds alone.

Little Rock Look Back: Ike meets with Orval

On September 14, 1957, in an attempt to end the stalemate in Arkansas, President Dwight D. Eisenhower met with Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus.  The meeting was brokered by Rep. Brooks Hays, whose district included Little Rock.

The meeting took place in Newport, Rhode Island, where the President was vacationing.  After exchanging pleasantries, the President and Governor adjourned to the Presidents office where they met privately for about twenty minutes.  During that conversation, Faubus proclaimed to the President that he was a law abiding citizen and discussed his own World War II service.  President Eisenhower suggested to Faubus that as a law abiding citizen, he should change the National Guard’s orders so that they protected the Little Rock Nine, not kept them from the building.  He reminded Faubus that the Justice Department was prepared to issue a injunction against him and that the governor would undoubtedly lose in court.

Following their conversation, Congressman Hays and U.S. Attorney General Herbert Brownell Jr.  joined the two in a larger office and continued conversations for approximately another 100 minutes.

When the meeting was over, the President felt like Faubus had agreed to refocus the mission of the National Guard and allow the Little Rock Nine to enter.  The President’s statement to the press thanked Faubus for his cooperation.  Upon returning to Little Rock, Faubus issued his own statement which did not address the President’s statement directly.  He did not even mention the National Guard or the students.

Apparently, President Eisenhower felt betrayed by the Governor’s actions.

The stage was set for these two to continue their face off.

125 years of MacArthur Park

On July 4, 1893, Arsenal Park opened in Little Rock.  This was the City’s first municipal public park.  Though it predated the establishment of a formal Parks and Recreation Department by several decades, it is the oldest part of that department.

The land now known as MacArthur Park had originally served as a horse racetrack in the early days of Little Rock.  By 1836, the federal government purchased the land for construction of a military arsenal.  The flagship building, the Arsenal Tower building, is the only remaining structure from that time period.

The land served as a military outpost until 1892.  On April 23, 1892, a land swap took place where in the City of Little Rock was given the property with the stipulation that it would be “forever exclusively devoted to the uses and purposes of a public park.” (Never mind that the federal government took part of the land back for the construction of the Wilbur Mills Freeway.)  Congressman William L. Terry was active in negotiating the land swap.

In return for giving the City this land, the federal government took possession of land on the north side of the Arkansas River (then part of Little Rock) – that 1,000 acres became Fort Logan H. Roots.

The park officially opened on July 4, 1893, with the name Arsenal Park. Since it was the City’s first and only park at the time, residents started referring to it as City Park. In time, the designation Arsenal Park fell from use.  In fact, it is referred to as City Park exclusively and officially in City documents throughout the first 42 years of the 20th Century.

On March 9, 1942, Little Rock’s first public park was renamed by the Little Rock City Council.  By a vote of fourteen ayes, zero nays and four absent, the alderman approved Ordinance 6,388 which renamed the park in honor of General Douglas MacArthur.

In 1952, General MacArthur (contemplating a run for the GOP nomination for President) visited Little Rock in March.  Later that year, the eventual GOP nominee (and 34th US President) General Dwight Eisenhower visited the park.

Today, MacArthur Park is the anchor of the burgeoning MacPark district as well as the MacArthur Park Historic Distric.

Little Rock Look Back: Wilbur D. Mills

While later known more as a punchline due to personal fallibilities, for decades Wilbur D. Mills was one of the most powerful men in the world.  As the chair of the House Ways and Means Committee from 1958 to 1975, he was the architect not only of an overhaul of the tax code, but also determined ways to finance Medicare, Medicaid, and many other federal programs of the Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon and Ford years.

Wilbur Daigh Mills was born in Kensett on May 24, 1909.  When Mills went to Congress at the age of 29, he was the youngest man elected to that time.  A scant four years later he joined the Ways and Means Committee.

Because Mills rarely had an opponent (only 1942, 1966, and 1974), he was able to focus on learning the ins and outs of the tax code. As long as he delivered some federal dollars to his largely rural district every so often, he did not have to preoccupy himself with the daily issues many in Congress face.  It was not until 1963, when Arkansas lost two of its six congressional seats, that Mills had Little Rock in his district. Prior to that, Searcy had been the largest city he represented.  (There had been concern that Rep. Dale Alford, who had upset incumbent Brooks Hays in 1958 before losing his seat due to reapportionment four years later might challenge Mills. But Alford opted to retire instead of taking on the powerful Mills.)

President Kennedy’s visit to Little Rock and Greers Ferry in October 1963 was the result of bargaining with Congressman Mills over some tax policy.  Mills gave in to JFK a bit, and JFK agreed to come to Arkansas to speak in Little Rock and at the dedication of two dams.  In recognition of his national clout, Mills was briefly considered a contender for the 1972 Democratic nomination for President.

Though he probably struggled with alcoholism for years, he had been able to keep his behavior in check until 1974 when his car was stopped in Washington DC for not having its headlights on. Though Mills was not driving, he was inebriated.  Another occupant of the car, a stripper with the stage name Fanne Fox ran from the car and frolicked in the Tidal Basin.  It became fodder for worldwide headlines.

The incident happened about a month before Election Day, when Mills was facing Republican Judy Petty.  A contrite Mills spent the remaining days in the campaign in Arkansas and won re-election by 59% of the vote.  (Though later in November, he again was in the headlines when Fox pulled him on stage with her at a club in Boston.) In January 1975, he stepped down as Ways and Means Chair.

In 1976, he opted to retire from Congress and did not seek another term.  In retirement, he practiced law in Washington DC before eventually moving back to Kensett full-time.  He died in 1992.

Little Rock Look Back: Pulitzer Prize to SOUTH PACIFIC

On May 5, 1950, the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical South Pacific captured the Pulitzer Prize in Drama. This would receive special attention in the Arkansas Gazette. The reason this carried such weight in Arkansas was that the musical had a connection to Little Rock.

The 1950 Pulitzer for Drama went to a musical, for only the second time in the history of the awards. The recipient was South Pacific by Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II and Joshua Logan. The character was the leading lady of Nellie Forbush. She was an Navy ensign and a nurse stationed on an exotic island during World War II. The musical was based on a Pulitzer Prize winning novel, James Michener’s Tales of the South Pacific.

In the Michener novel, Miss Forbush is not from Little Rock. She is actually from a small town in Alabama. But the book does mention Nellie and her mother visiting Little Rock.  The part was written for Mary Martin from Weatherford, Texas. Rodgers, Hammerstein & Logan did not discuss why they relocated Nellie’s birthplace.

Originally the musical contained a song entitled “My Girl Back Home” in which Nellie sang of being from “Little Rock, A-R-K” while another character sang of being from “Philadelphia, P-A” and “Princeton, N-J.” It is possible the change to Little Rock was made because it offered more lyrical possibilities, but that is only a supposition on the part of the Culture Vulture. That song did appear in the movie version in which Mitzi Gaynor played Nellie Forbush. It was also featured in the 2008 Broadway revival, this time with Kelli O’Hara playing Nellie.

In the musical, Nellie struggles with her own prejudices. This issue of prejudice became an instance of fact meeting fiction. In 1957, a few weeks after Eisenhower sent troops into Little Rock to ensure that Central High would be desegregated, a production of South Pacific on Long Island was temporarily halted when the audience booed and yelled after Nellie mentioned she was from Little Rock. Interestingly, the movie was released in 1958, but retained references to Little Rock. That was either a testament to the expense of re-editing it, or the fact that audience reaction had lessened.

Little Rock Look Back: Birth of a General

On January 26, 1880, Douglas MacArthur was born in the Arsenal Building while his father was stationed at the Little Rock Barracks.  Though he left Arkansas a few weeks later when his father was transferred, he returned to his birthplace on March 23, 1952. On that day he was greeted by crowds welcoming one of the USA’s most famous military figures.

Though Gen. MacArthur spent only a few weeks in Little Rock, he was baptized at Christ Episcopal Church.  The location of the baptism remains a mystery today because the church was meeting in temporary locations due to the first structure having been lost to a fire.

When the General returned to Little Rock in 1952, he did pay a brief visit to Christ Church.  He also spoke at the Foster Bandshell in the park which bore his name.  He was one of three presidential candidates to speak at the Foster Bandshell in 1952, the others were the eventual Democratic and Republican nominees Adlai Stevenson and Dwight Eisenhower.

When General MacArthur died, he was granted a state funeral.  He was one of the few non-Presidents to have been given this honor.

Today, the MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History is located in the Arsenal building.  It was created to interpret our state’s military heritage from its territorial period to the present.

Located in the historic Tower Building of the Little Rock Arsenal–the birthplace of General Douglas MacArthur–the museum preserves the contributions of Arkansas men and women who served in the armed forces.

Exhibits feature artifacts, photographs, weapons, documents, uniforms and other military items that vividly portray Arkansas’s military history at home and abroad.