Little Rock Look Back: Dedication of Clinton Presidential Park Bridge and Bill Clark Wetlands

Photo by the Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau

On a very warm Friday, September 30, 2011, the Clinton Presidential Park Bridge was dedicated.  This completed the eastern loop of the Arkansas River Trail as well as created another feature in Clinton Presidential Park.

The ceremony featured remarks by both President Bill Clinton and the incumbent Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.  Chelsea Clinton also took part in the ceremony.  Former US Senators (and Arkansas Governors) Dale Bumpers and David Pryor were in attendance as was Jim Guy Tucker who followed Clinton into the Arkansas Governor’s Office.  Current Governor Mike Beebe was also present and took part in the ceremony, which was emceed by Stephanie Streett, executive director of the Clinton Foundation.  Many other former and current elected officials were present.

In addition to dedicating the bridge, the ceremony officially dedicated the William E. “Bill” Clark Presidential Wetlands which are adjacent to the bridge.  City Director Dean Kumpuris joined Clark’s widow, Margaret, and son, William, in the dedication of the wetlands.

This Clinton Presidential Park Bridge is over 2,600 ft. long.  It was constructed in 1899 as the Rock Island Bridge.  After the Rock Island stopped using the bridge, the lift span was permanently raised.  It had to stay this was for the Clinton redevelopment.  Therefore a new surface was built that slopingly takes persons from park level up to the span level and back down.

The bridge’s “rusty” structure is complemented by a well-lit 12-18-foot walkway flanked on both sides by silver galvanized steel handrails.
The total investment for this area is over $13.5 million.
Later that weekend, the Clinton Foundation hosted an event to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Clinton’s announcement that he was seeking the Presidency.
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Little Rock Look Back: Robinson Center closes in preparation for Second Act

On July 1, 2014, Robinson Center Music Hall closed so that renovations could commence.  Instead of having a groundbreaking ceremony, Gretchen Hall and LRCVB arranged for a “stage breaking.”  Slats from the stage flooring were pried up with crowbars.

Twenty-eight months later, Robinson Center reopened on-time and on-budget.

(As a side note:  the Culture Vulture announced the countdown before Governor Mike Beebe and various Little Rock leaders used their crowbars for the first breaking of the stage flooring.)

Here are some photos from that ceremony.

Little Rock Look Back: Sixty Years of the Little Rock Nine

Sixty years ago today the Little Rock Nine entered Central High School and stayed. On one hand, this brought to the end a nearly month long standoff between segregationists and those who wanted to obey the U.S. Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board decision.

In the bigger picture, the struggle did not end that day.  Throughout the remainder of the school year, the Little Rock Nine were subjected to threats, isolation and hostility.  Outside of the school, while the crowds may had dispersed after September 25, the raw feelings did not subside.

This was evidenced by the fact that the following year the high schools were closed to avoid having them integrated.

But September 25, 1957, was an historic day in the United States. Under guard of members of the 101st Airborne Division of the Army, the Little Rock Nine were escorted into Central High School. This action by President Dwight Eisenhower was the result of the intrusive efforts of Governor Orval Faubus who had used the Arkansas National Guard to keep the nine students out.

The City of Little Rock was largely a bystander in this issue. The form of government was changing from Mayor-Council to City Manager in November 1957. Therefore Mayor Woodrow Mann and the entire City Council were lame ducks. Mann, whose son was a senior at Central, tried to focus on keeping the peace in Little Rock. Most (if not all) of his Council members sided with the Governor.

Congressman Brooks Hays, a Little Rock resident, had tried to broker an agreement between the President and the Governor but was unsuccessful.  Following that, Mayor Mann was in discussions with the White House about the ability of the Little Rock Police Department to maintain order.  Finally, in the interest of public safety, the President federalized the National Guard and removed them. This paved the way for the Army to come in.

Though the school year was not easy, the nine youths who became known worldwide as the Little Rock Nine were finally in school.  They were Minnijean Brown, Elizabeth Eckford, Ernest Green, Thelma Mothershed, Melba Pattillo, Gloria Ray, Terrence Roberts, Jefferson Thomas and Carlotta Walls.

In 1997, President Bill Clinton, Governor Mike Huckabee and Mayor Jim Dailey, famously held open the doors of Central High for the Little Rock Nine on the 40th anniversary.  Ten years later, Clinton, Huckabee and Dailey returned joined by Governor Mike Beebe and Mayor Mark Stodola to host the 50th anniversary events.

Today, President Clinton was once again at Central.  This time he was joined by Governor Asa Hutchinson and Mayor Stodola.  Two people who have played parts in organizing all three of these commemorations are City Manager Bruce T. Moore and Central High Principal Nancy Rousseau.  Others, such as Skip Rutherford and Annie Abrams have participated in all three commemorations.

In light of its role in history, the school is a National Historic Site, while still functioning as a high school.

Little Rock Look Back: Robinson Center closes for renovation

On July 1, 2014, Robinson Center Music Hall closed so that renovations could commence.  Instead of having a groundbreaking ceremony, Gretchen Hall and LRCVB arranged for a “stage breaking.”  Slats from the stage flooring were pried up with crowbars.

Twenty-eight months later, Robinson Center reopened on-time and on-budget.

(As a side note:  the Culture Vulture announced the countdown before Governor Mike Beebe and various Little Rock leaders used their crowbars for the first breaking of the stage flooring.)

Here are some photos from that ceremony.

Women’s History Month – Judge Alice Lightle, first female Little Rock District Judge

Judge Alice Lightle was first appointed by Governor Mike Beebe in June 2007 to fill out the remaining term in Little Rock District Court, Third Division (colloquially known as Environmental Court). She became the first woman to serve as a permanent District (formerly Municipal) Judge in Little Rock history.

In November 2008, she was elected to a four year term in the Little Rock District Court, First Division (informally called Criminal Court). This made her the first woman to be elected a Little Rock District Judge.  She was re-elected in 2012 and again in May 2016, when she was unopposed.  She started her third term in January 2017.

Judge Lightle comes from a family of attorneys and public servants.  Prior to serving as a judge, she was a former assistant state attorney general and commissioner on the state Workers Compensation Commission.

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.

Creative Class of 2015: Kathryn Tucker

KFTuckerFilmmaker Kathryn Tucker returned to her native Little Rock three years ago after spending time in New York (four years) and Los Angeles (six years). In NYC, she worked for Miramax Films. She left Miramax to help make an independent film (Loggerheads) in North Carolina that was accepted at Sundance. She then moved the LA for 6 years and became of member of the Director’s Guild of America (DGA).

During that time she worked with a wide range of movie stars, including Nicole Kidman, Tom Cruise, Jennifer Anniston, Adam Sandler, Al Pacino, Katie Holmes and Ryan Gosling. Among her projects in LA were This Is 40, Oblivion, Gangster Squad, Knocked Up and the TV shows “Glee,” “Private Practice,” “Bones,” “Gilmore Girls,” and “7th Heaven.”

She returned to Little Rock (where she was a 1996 graduate of LR Central High) three years ago and has produced an award winning short (“One Please”) and a feature (All the Birds Have Flown South) written by the Miller brothers. She is currently completing a screenplay for a movie she will direct in 2016 and is under contract with AETN to produce and direct a documentary bio of former Gov. Mike Beebe.