Little Rock Culture Vulture

Cultural events, places and people in the Little Rock area


Little Rock Look Back: President Harry S. Truman

On May 8, 1884, future US President Harry S. Truman was born in Lamar, Missouri.

Truman spent most of his youth on the family farm.  Serving in World War I, he saw combat in France and rose to the rank of Captain.  After the war, he returned to Missouri and became involved in Democratic Party politics.  After serving as a county official, he was elected US Senator in 1935 backed by the powerful Kansas City Pendergast machine.

In 1941, he headed a Senate Committee which exposed corruption and fraud in wartime contracts.  He also worked to show he was not just a puppet of the Pendergast machine (which was crucial once Pendergast went to prison).  In 1944, Democratic leaders were trying to knock the incumbent Vice President, Henry Wallace, off the ticket as FDR’s running mate.  Wallace was viewed as too far to the left.  Truman was a compromise candidate and was chosen to serve as FDR’s running mate.

He took office as Vice President in March 1945.  When President Roosevelt died in April 1945, they had spent little time together.  He oversaw the dropping of the atomic bomb on Japan in his hopes of ending World War II with fewer soldier casualties.

Following the war, he supported the creation of the United Nations, sought to contain communism through the Truman Doctrine, and worked to rebuild Europe.  In his quest to stem the spread of communism, he involved the US in the Korean War.

Domestically, he struggled with civil rights issues (including integrating the military) and labor issues (including the threat to draft striking railway workers into the military). His election in 1948 for a full four-year term is often seen as the biggest upset in US Presidential political history.

At the time he became President, Truman was still living in a small apartment with his wife and daughter.  Though they lived in the White House for a bit, they later vacated it for the Blair House so that the structure could be completely renovated.

By the approach of the 1952 presidential election, Truman’s popularity had waned again.  He half-heartedly ran in the New Hampshire primary because he did not like any of the candidates currently in the field.  After finishing second to Sen. Estes Keafauver, he announced he would not be a candidate.  He left office in 1953 and returned to Missouri.

From 1953 onward, he served as the senior statesman and father confessor of the Democratic Party.  Many political leaders made pilgrimages to visit him.  In 1965, President Johnson signed the bill establishing Medicare at the Truman Library with President and Mrs. Truman in attendance.

He died on December 26, 1972, after having been admitted to the hospital earlier in the month for pneumonia.

Truman made two visits to Little Rock while President.  In June 1949, he attended an Army division reunion and spoke at the dedication of War Memorial Park.  (He also spoke twice at Robinson Auditorium during this visit.) In 1952, he visited Little Rock while in the state to speak at the dedication of Bull Shoals Dam and Norfork Dam.

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Little Rock Look Back: Franklin D. Roosevelt

Gov. & Mrs. Roosevelt with Sen. Robinson en route to FDR taking oath as president.

Gov. & Mrs. Roosevelt with Sen. Robinson en route to FDR taking oath as president.

On January 30, 1882, future U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was born.  In 1936, he visited Little Rock as part of a statewide tour in conjunction with Arkansas’ Centennial celebration.  While in the state he spent time outside of Hot Springs at Couchwood, the vacation home of Arkansas Power & Light founder Harvey Couch, who was the chair of the Centennial activities.

In honor of President Roosevelt’s visit, a portion of Highway 365 in Little Rock was designated Roosevelt Road. He followed part of that road while in the Capital City before making a public appearance.

President Roosevelt’s address on June 10, recounted Arkansas’ territorial and statehood history. At the end he paid tribute to his Senator Joseph Taylor Robinson.  The Senator was a friend and confidant who often led the charge for FDR programs in congress.  Indeed, it would be New Deal programs which would allow for the construction of a municipal auditorium in Little Rock, which would be named in memory of Sen. Robinson after his death in the summer of 1937.  (As the Democratic leader of the Senate, it had been Robinson who accompanied FDR and Eleanor in the motorcade to the 1933 Presidential inauguration ceremony.)  A quote by President Roosevelt upon learning of Senator Robinson’s death adorns a wall of Robinson Center.

FDR’s visit to Arkansas had political implications as well.  The late Senator Huey Long of neighboring Louisiana had been arguably FDR’s biggest adversary in Washington.  Long was very popular in rural areas of Arkansas and had campaigned for Hattie Caraway when she ran for re-election to the Senate, to the dismay of many of Arkansas’ Democratic establishment.  Harvey Couch had worked to bring about a detente between FDR and Long prior to the latter’s assassination in 1935.  But between a lingering mistrust of FDR by Long supporters and discontent from some sectors based on New Deal programs, it was important for FDR to shore up Democratic support in Arkansas.  At the time the state had nine electoral votes.

FDR would return to Central Arkansas in 1943 to review troops at the military facility named for Sen. Robinson.  That would be his final visit to Arkansas before his death in April 1945.

As a character in the musical Annie, FDR has been on the stage of Robinson on numerous occasions.

Little Rock Look Back: Prohibition Repealed on December 5, 1933

prohibition-repealOn December 5, 1933, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Utah provided the necessary support to officially repeal “the great experiment.”

Because this was such a foregone conclusion, the Arkansas Gazette and Arkansas Democrat carried only small, single column stories on their front pages.  Perhaps because this was Arkansas, it did not appear that any Little Rock businesses immediately set about to capitalize on this.  At least there were not any large scale advertisements in the days following that would indicate any specials or activities planned for the December 15 official end.

In fact, the only mention in the newspapers on December 15 was that President Roosevelt was trying to decide what the alcohol taxing structure should be.

One amusing story that ran in the Arkansas Democrat on December 6 was that Mrs. Roosevelt was keeping the wine glasses in storage at the White House for the time being.  She was awaiting action by Congress once it convened in January 1934 as to how it would deal with properly ending Prohibition in the District of Columbia.  Over 3,000 wine glasses had been in storage since Prohibition had been enacted.

Turkey Day Football in LR – Little Rock High vs NLR

lrhs-nlrhs-grid-1957After 20 years of playing a variety of schools on Thanksgiving, in 1934 Little Rock High School had started the new tradition of playing the North Little Rock High School Wildcats.  These cross-river rivals had played a few games previously in the 1910s and early 1920s. The competition was resumed in 1931, but was not on Thanksgiving Day until 1934.  With that game, the Tigers of Little Rock would begin a 49-year tradition of taking on their biggest rival on Turkey Day.

For much of the 1920s and 1930s, a Thanksgiving Day game for Little Rock High School meant rain.  That was the case in the 1934 meeting at Kavanaugh Field. (Located at the current spot of Quigley Stadium, it was a baseball field on which football games could also be played.  In 1936, the current stadium opened.)  The Tigers and Wildcats played to a 2-0 win achieved by the southside Bengals of Earl Quigley.

Another notable matchup was the 1938 game.  Little Rock won 12 to 7. With that win, it captured its first official state football championship. (Though the Arkansas Activities Association does now credit LRHS with several prior championships.)

The 1939 edition took place on Arkansas Thanksgiving.  That November featured five Thursdays.  President Roosevelt issued a proclamation that Thanksgiving would be the fourth Thursday, as it traditionally was. However Arkansas and a few other states chose to observe it on the final Thursday.  Little Rock won 6 to 0, but it was a messy game. Some sports fans joked that the game was FDR’s revenge on Arkansas for ignoring him regarding Thanksgiving.

In 1941, only a few days before the US would be plunged into World War II, North Little Rock achieved its first Turkey Day win over Little Rock.  The score was 26 for the Wildcats and 0 for the Tigers.  This was only the third ever loss for the Tigers on a Thanksgiving Day.  The Tigers were so dominant on Turkey Day games, a student had once remarked to a Gazette reporter that the matchup against Pine Bluff should be moved to Thanksgiving since the Tigers always seemed to win on that day.  (Pine Bluff was the state’s other football powerhouse at the time and often gave the Tigers fits in games.)

North Little Rock repeated as winner in the 1942 game, this time with a 31 to 12 score.  Writing for the Gazette, Orville Henry wondered if this would be the final meeting for the duration of the war.  He opined that many of the players might be in a different type of uniform for future games and that rubber might be needed for the war effort instead of athletic equipment.  While some colleges and high schools did drop football during the war, neither LR nor NLR did.

The Tigers were back on top in 1943 by a 13-7 score.  (It would be the last football game for the NLR coach who had been drafted.)  The 1944 game also featured a 13-7 score, but this time it was flipped and the Wildcats were winners.  The 1945 edition ground to a 13-13 tie.

In 1947, both teams were undefeated heading into the Turkey Day classic.  The inky wretches and scribes were predicting another evenly matched slugfest.  Instead Little Rock owned the game and came out with a 13-0 win.

The teams met eight times in the 1950s on Thanksgiving.  Little Rock won seven of the eight, losing the 1951 game by one point (13 to 14).

With the anticipation of a second Little Rock high school to be opened in a few years, Little Rock High School was rechristened as Little Rock Central High in 1954. The new school, named Hall High, opened in 1957 but played much smaller schools for its first year on the gridiron.  Plans were underway for Hall and Central to meet on Turkey Day in 1958, so the 1957 meeting of Little Rock and North Little Rock would be the final time the two teams would meet on Thanksgiving Day.

Little Rock Central High had dominated world headlines in September and October 1957 with the integration of the Little Rock Nine.  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: November 8 Presidential Election Arkansas Newspapers

November 8 has been a Presidential Election Day in Arkansas six times.  The first time such a date happened in the US, Arkansas did not participate because it was 1864.  The times it has happened have been 1892, 1904, 1932, 1960, 1988, and today.

A look back at newspaper headlines from the previous years tells a lot about not only the elections, but also the way news was delivered.  For the 1892 and 1904 elections, only the Arkansas Gazette is available.  Though the Arkansas Democrat existed, it did not yet publish every day.  Tuesdays do not appear to have been dates it was published.  (The Gazette itself would not be at seven days until the early 1900s when it finally started publishing a Monday edition.)

elex-ag-1892The 1892 election day Gazette intersperses news stories with advertisements.  One headline states poetically:  “Ballots: Like flakes of snow they will gently fall throughout the Union today.”  Another headline stated “Confident.  Democrats everywhere feel assured of Grover Cleveland’s election today.”  Indeed, Cleveland returned to the White House in 1892 after four years of Benjamin Harrison.

elex-ag-04By 1904, most front page advertising at the Gazette had been banished from the front page, although an small box ad for Blass Department Store is at the top.  Only three of the seven columns on the front page have above-the-fold headlines devoted to election stories, and two of those are about the State of New York.  This reflects new editor J. N. Heiskell’s desire to have the Gazette be national in scope. While early Gazettes often relied on national news to fill space, by the post Reconstruction era, the focus was largely on local news.   The lone local headline was “Arkansas will go Democratic” which was certainly a foregone conclusion at the time.  While Arkansas did go Democratic, Theodore Roosevelt kept the presidency in the hands of the GOP.  Interestingly another headline was about efforts to get Prohibition adopted in the state.  It would become an election issue for years to come.

elex-ag-32By 1932, both the Gazette and Democrat published Election Day editions.  The Gazette’s stories included predictions that FDR would win and a record number of ballots would be cast.  There were also separate stories which highlighted the final day of campaigning for both FDR and Hoover.  One of Mr. Heiskell’s above-the-fold editorials encouraged voting No on a variety of measures which dealt with public school financing, sales tax reduction, bond issuance, and reorganization of county election commissions and state government.

elex-ad-32The afternoon Democrat featured stories on Hoover and FDR in the last hours of the campaigns. Like the Gazette it anticipated a record turnout and showed that Pulaski County was experiencing heavy turnout.  The headline trumpeted that FDR had a lead as early results were starting to trickle in.  The Democrat also offered succinct analysis of key battleground states.  In the end, FDR did carry 42 of the 48 states in an election that saw a record of 38,582, 531 people casting votes for one of the two top candidates.

elex-ag-60The 1960 election ended up being one of the closest in popular vote in US history, with only 112,827 votes separating JFK from Nixon.  The Gazette headline was “Kennedy, Nixon take fight down to wire; State interest high.”  The front page also featured stories about Kennedy’s and Nixon’s last full day on the campaign trail.  A box on the front page reminded readers that liquor stores and beer sales could not take place during polling hours. Only persons who had paid their 1960 poll tax were eligible to vote–with an exception made for those who turned 21 after the poll tax deadline and through election day.  The last reminder was that the names of the parties, but not the candidates themselves, would appear on the ballot in the presidential race.

elex-ad-60The afternoon Democrat ran a large photo of Jackie and JFK after they had voted and a slightly smaller one of the Nixon family voting.  Two stories discussed the record turnout that appeared to be taking place — one was on a national scale, and the other was focused on Arkansas.  There was also a story on last minute campaigning.  In the end, over 68,000,000 votes were cast which was a record at the time.

elex-ag-88The most recent presidential election to take place on November 8 was in 1988.  It featured Vice President George H. W. Bush against Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis.  The Gazette (covering its final presidential election — though no one knew it at the time) featured a story on Bush and Dukakis in the final day of campaigning.  It also featured a guide to watching the returns and discussed how the networks made their decisions about calling states.  There was also a box highlighting key battleground states which included Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, New York, Illinois and Texas.  Interestingly, two of those were the home states of the candidates.

elex-ad-88By 1988, the Democrat had been a morning paper for several years going head to head with the Gazette.  It carried its own photos of Bush and Dukakis on the final full day of campaigning.  An inside story was highlighted on the cover which featured a Monday rally in Little Rock with Texas Senator Lloyd Bentsen (Dukakis’ running mate).  The 1988 campaign was long, by the standards of the time, but would be considered abbreviated today.  The 1988 election would mark the third consecutive presidential election that the GOP candidate carried Arkansas.

RobinsoNovember: Mayor J. V. Satterfield Jr.

Satterfield AuditUpon taking office as mayor in April 1939, J. V. Satterfield felt he was getting a handle on Little Rock’s precarious financial situation. He would soon discover that it was more unstable than he had imagined.  Included in this was Robinson Auditorium, currently under construction across the street from his office in City Hall.  Mayor Satterfield disclosed that he had voted against the auditorium in 1937 because he felt the finances were not sufficient. But as the mayor, he promised to open the building.

By the summer of 1939, it was becoming apparent that there would not sufficient money to finish the construction.  Even with the issuance of the final round of approved bonds (which had been held back as a reserve), there would not be enough money.  The Mayor and Harvey Couch made plans to go to Washington DC to try to get more money from the federal government.  Mr. Couch was a personal friend of President Roosevelt as well as head of Arkansas Power & Light.  The pair made the trip but returned with no additional money.

At the same time, the Auditorium Commission, which had been appointed by Mayor Overman to oversee the governance of the building, resigned as a group. They said they had been appointed to administer a building, not a construction site. Since it was uncertain as to when the building would open, they stepped down.

Mayor Satterfield was able to negotiate a series of deals to get the necessary work completed for construction of the building to be completed. Part of it involved issuing another round of bonds after the building had been officially opened to finish furnishing the building as well as complete the landscaping.  In January 1940, with a new opening date becoming a stronger possibility, the mayor appointed a new Auditorium Commission.

At the same time, regular events started to take place in the lower level exhibition hall.  There had been a few in November and December, but with a lack of utilities and ongoing construction upstairs in the music hall, those were curtailed.

On February 16, 1940, Joseph Taylor Robinson Memorial Auditorium officially opened. Mayor Satterfield was joined onstage for the ribbon cutting with Senator Robinson’s widow and her sister-in-law, who was a member of the Auditorium Commission.

In April 1940, Little Rock voters approved the final round of bonds which allowed for the building to be finished.

After only two years in office, Mayor Satterfield chose not to seek another term. He left City Hall in April 1941 with finances in order and a new municipal auditorium across the street.

RobinsoNovember: Senator Joseph Taylor Robinson

150px-joseph_t-_robinson_croppedThis month, Robinson Center Music Hall will reopen after a two year renovation/restoration/remodeling/reconstruction.  To commemorate that, each day in November, the Culture Vulture will look at a person or event connected to Robinson Center Music Hall.

Up first, the eponym for the building.

Senator Joseph Taylor Robinson was born in Lonoke in 1872.  In 1894 Robinson was elected to the Arkansas General Assembly for one term.  From 1903 until 1913, he served in the US House of Representatives as a Congressman from Arkansas’ then-Sixth District.

He chose not to seek another term in Congress and ran for Governor in 1912.  On January 3, 1913, sitting US Senator Jeff Davis died in office.  Robinson was sworn in as Governor on January 16, 1913. Twelve days later he was chosen by the Arkansas General Assembly to become the next US Senator. He became the final US Senator to be selected by a legislator instead of popular vote.  At the time, Senate terms started in March, so Robinson served as governor until March 8, 1913.

He rose through the ranks of the Senate and eventually became the first person to hold the title of Senate Majority Leader.  In 1928, he was the Vice Presidential nominee for the Democratic Party.  Four years later, he rode with Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt to the inauguration ceremonies before FDR took the oath.  He would be President Roosevelt’s go-to man on legislative issues.



Senator Robinson died in Washington D.C. on July 14, 1937.  His wife was in Little Rock making preparations for a trip the couple was to take. Following his demise, Mrs. Robinson went to Washington to accompany her husband’s body back to Arkansas.

The Senator was honored with a memorial service in the Senate chambers on Friday, July 17.  President Roosevelt and the cabinet joined members of the senate on the floor in what was described as a state funeral without pomp.  Mrs. Robinson sat with her brothers and two nephews as well as Bernard Baruch and Arkansas Power & Light’s Harvey Couch, who were Senator Robinson’s closest friends.  Eleanor Roosevelt was one of the many crowded in the senate galleries observing the service.  Following the service his body remained in the chambers until it was transferred to a train to make the journey to Little Rock.

The funeral train bore his body, his family, 50 senators and over twenty congressmen. It reached Little Rock around 8am on Sunday the 19th.  From there, Senator Robinson’s body was taken to his house on Broadway Street until noon.  It subsequently lay in state at the Arkansas State Capitol until being escorted by military to First Methodist Church.

As the funeral procession reached Roselawn Cemetery, thunder echoed. The skies which had alternated between sun and rain that day, returned to rain. A deluge greeted the end of the service and sent visitors hurrying for shelter at the end.

It was not until December 1937, that Senator Robinson’s name became attached to the municipal auditorium which Little Rock voters had approved in January 1937.