Little Rock Culture Vulture

Cultural events, places and people in the Little Rock area


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JFK in LR and other parts of ARK

JFK LROn October 3, 1963, President John F. Kennedy delivered remarks at the Arkansas State Fairgrounds.  Only a few weeks later, he would be felled by an assassins bullet in Texas.

In the speech, the President praised Arkansas’ congressional delegation including Senators John McClellan and J. William Fulbright and Congressmen Took Gathings, Bill Trimble, Wilbur Mills and Oren Harris.  Each of these men held senior leadership positions in key committees.  The main focus of the speech was to discuss President Kennedy’s vision for a new economy in the South.

The President was actually in the state to speak at the dedication of the Greers Ferry Dam. He agreed to make that appearance as a part of a negotiation with Congressman Mills as they were deadlocked over changes to the tax code.  He had previously visited Little Rock in 1957 when he came to the state to address the Arkansas Bar Association meeting in Hot Springs.

President Kennedy continued the string of 20th Century Presidents to visit Little Rock.  Presidents Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman had all visited while in office.  Woodrow Wilson, Herbert Hoover and Dwight Eisenhower all visited prior to attaining the presidency.

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Little Rock Look Back: President Truman dedicates War Memorial Park

HST in LR2Though President Truman was in Little Rock for a military reunion, he did conduct some official business while here.  In his Presidential role, he spoke at the dedication of War Memorial Park on June 11.  (It is sometimes erroneously reported that he dedicated the stadium.  That took place at a Razorback game with former Razorback player and future Lt. Governor Maurice “Footsie” Britt delivering the keynote.)

President Truman’s address took place inside War Memorial Stadium at 2:30 p.m..   It was not a brief dedicatory speech, but instead was a lengthy treatise on foreign affairs.  The address was carried on nationwide radio.  The text of his address can be found here.

The stadium was by no means full.  A major reason for that was that many thousand individuals had turned out to witness a parade downtown in which President Truman marched along side Governor Sid McMath.  The parade was in conjunction with the military reunion.  Given the June heat in Arkansas (in which parade spectators had been standing for several hours) and the difficulty of getting from the parade route to the stadium, most (if not all) parade spectators opted for skipping the presidential address.

Before the parade, President Truman (who was still riding high from his upset victory in the 1948 election) was asked by a local reporter if he would run in 1952. He refused to answer stating that the national media would think he had planted the question with a local member of the press.

Prior to the name War Memorial Park, the land had been known as Fair Park.  It was a former location of the State Fair.  In the 1930s, it had briefly been known as Overman Park in honor of then-Mayor R. E. Overman.  The City Council had named it for him as a tribute to his work on a variety of projects. When he displeased them, they reversed their decision and renamed it to Fair Park.

 


Little Rock Look Back: HST in LR

HST in LR2On June 10 and 11, 1949, President Harry S. Truman visited Little Rock.  He was here to participate in activities connected to the reunion of the 35th Division Association.  He had served in that division during World War I.

While he was in Little Rock, President Truman spoke several times.  He generally was accompanied by Governor Sid McMath and Mayor Sam Wassell.

On June 10, he spoke at Robinson Auditorium as part of a welcome ceremony, at a reception at the Hotel Marion and at a ball held at Robinson Auditorium.  His first address was at 3:48 pm and his final one was at 10:15 pm.  The next day he spoke at a breakfast and at a luncheon at the Hotel Marion.  He took pains at these times to stress he was here as a member of the 35th Division.  He also participated in a parade.

In his Presidential role, he spoke at the dedication of War Memorial Park on June 11.  His address took place inside War Memorial Stadium, which had been opened a few months earlier.  It was not a brief dedicatory speech, but instead was a lengthy treatise on foreign affairs.  The address was carried on nationwide radio.  The text of his address can be found here.

President Truman would return to Little Rock in July 1952.  He was in the state to speak at the dedication of Bull Shoals Dam. He did not make any formal remarks in Little Rock while in the city for that visit.


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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.


Little Rock Look Back: Mayor Sam M. Wassell

On April 28, 1883, future Little Rock Mayor Sam M. Wassell was born.  His grandfather John W. Wassell had been appointed Mayor of Little Rock in 1868.  He is the only Little Rock Mayor to be a grandson of another Little Rock Mayor.

Sam Wassell served on the Little Rock City Council from 1928 through 1934 and again from 1940 through 1946.  He is one of the few 20th Century Little Rock Mayors who previously served on the City Council.

Wassell was an attorney.  He practiced law privately and also served as an Assistant US Attorney.  In 1930, he ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination for the US Congress representing the 5th Congressional District, which at the time included Little Rock.

Wassell ran for Mayor in 1947 and was unopposed in the general election.  He was unopposed in his bid for re-election in 1949.  During his second term, President Harry S. Truman visited Little Rock.  In 1951, he sought a third term as Mayor.  No Little Rock Mayor had been successful in achieving a third consecutive term since 1923.  Though he received the Democratic nomination, the Republican party nominated Pratt Remmel who defeated Wassell by a 2 to 1 margin.

With a new USS Little Rock nearing commissioning, it is interesting to note that Mrs. Sam Wassell christened the previous USS Little Rock in 1944.  At the time, she was a City Councilor’s wife.

Mayor Wassell died on December 23, 1954 and is buried at Roselawn Cemetery in Little Rock.


RobinsoNovember: President Harry S. Truman

HST in LR2

President Truman in War Memorial Park. A photo of him at Robinson does not seem to exist.

Today is Veterans’ Day, a chance to pause and remember those — both living and deceased — who have served in the Armed Forces of the US.  November 11 was chosen since it was on November 11 in 1918, at 11:11 (Paris time), the Armistice was signed to end the Great War, as World War I was then known.  In 1954, the holiday was renamed Veterans Day since the US had been in two military conflicts since the Great War.

A World War I infantry reunion brought President Harry S. Truman to Little Rock in June 1949, a few months after he won his own term in the Presidency. During his time here, he spoke twice at Robinson Auditorium.

Upon arriving, he made some informal remarks:

I am most happy to be here. I am only here in my capacity as a member of the 35th Division. Tomorrow I will address you as President of the United States, and I am afraid you will have to listen, whether you like it or not.

I hope to have a pleasant time in Little Rock, as I always have when I come here. I have been here a dozen times–one of the most hospitable cities in the United States. They know how to treat you, they know how to make you like it, and want you to come back.

I will see more of you later on in the day.

I appreciate the welcome that everybody has given us here this afternoon.

Thank you very much.

 

Later that night, he spoke at a Ball at Robinson.  It followed a banquet that had taken place at the Hotel Marion.

Governor McMath, the Mayor of Little Rock, and distinguished guests:

I can’t tell you how very much I appreciate the cordial reception which I have received in Little Rock. It has been like coming back home to come down here. It’s a habit of mine and has been for 25 years. I have been here in town many a time, and attracted no attention at all. But my friends were just as cordial to me then as they are now.

And I want to thank Eberts Post No. r for its cooperation with the 35th Division in putting on this ball and entertainment.

My education, so far as taking part on the floor is concerned, was sadly neglected as I grew up. I am a Baptist–not a light-foot one–so I didn’t learn how to dance. But I did learn a lot of other things in life, maybe, that I shouldn’t have learned.

I hope that the 35th Reunion this year will be the usual success that 35th Reunions are. I have missed only one, I think, in 25 years or more. I didn’t want to miss this one. The fact that you had it on a weekend gave me and the congressional delegation of the great State of Arkansas an opportunity to be present and attend the meeting. Otherwise, we would have had to stay in Washington and work.

It doesn’t make any difference, though, where the President goes, his work follows him up. I told the congregation this afternoon–you see, I am talking as a Baptist talks–that it didn’t make any difference where I went, I have to sign my name some 600 times a day to keep the country running. And it has, up to date, and I think it will continue, at least for 3 1/2 years more.

I am looking forward to a most pleasant time. I am talking to you now as a member of the 35th Division only, but if you want to hear the President of the United States you had better come out to the stadium tomorrow, and I will tell you something that will be good for your souls.

Thank you very much.

The following day he gave a national address on foreign affairs at the dedication of War Memorial Park.  It was carried on coast-to-coast radio.  There was no radio coverage of his remarks at Robinson, but a large press corps of national correspondents captured his words.

The Little Rock Mayor to whom he referred was Sam Wassell.  Mayor Wassell’s wife had christened the USS Little Rock during World War II.  A first cousin, Dr. Corydon Wassell, was a war hero who had been played by Gary Cooper in a movie.


LR Look Back: JFK in LR (and Greers Ferry)

JFK LROn October 3, 1963, President John F. Kennedy delivered remarks at the Arkansas State Fairgrounds.  Only a few weeks later, he would be felled by an assassins bullet in Texas.

In the speech, the President praised Arkansas’ congressional delegation including Senators John McClellan and J. William Fulbright and Congressmen Took Gathings, Bill Trimble, Wilbur Mills and Oren Harris.  Each of these men held senior leadership positions in key committees.  The main focus of the speech was to discuss President Kennedy’s vision for a new economy in the South.

The President was actually in the state to speak at the dedication of the Greers Ferry Dam. He agreed to make that appearance as a part of a negotiation with Congressman Mills as they were deadlocked over changes to the tax code.  He had previously visited Little Rock in 1957 when he came to the state to address the Arkansas Bar Association meeting in Hot Springs.

President Kennedy continued the string of 20th Century Presidents to visit Little Rock.  Presidents Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman had all visited while in office.  Woodrow Wilson, Herbert Hoover and Dwight Eisenhower all visited prior to attaining the presidency.