JFK in LR

On 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.

BEYOND THE BIG SHOOTOUT is topic of noon Clinton School program today

Image result for mark mcdonald beyond the big shootout

December 1969 – the top two college football teams in the country faced off in Fayetteville with the national championship on the line.  In the stands were the US President, a future US President and several leaders of congress.

Known as The Big Shootout, it was more than just a football game.  Today (September 24) at noon, author Mark S. McDonald will be discussing his book at that historic game that changed the face of football forever. This is part of the Clinton School’s speaker series and will be held at Sturgis Hall.

Right after the game, your life changed, everything changed … recruiting of black athletes in Dixie, new safety rules in football, tighter crowd control, more TV coverage and bigger money in college athletics … Suddenly, for the Arkansas Razorbacks and Texas Longhorns, and players and coaches nationwide, bulbs on a scoreboard no longer defined them. Instead, life came rushing at them.

In a blur, these superior, highly trained athletes were no longer football stars. They were fathers, community leaders, victims of car wrecks and cancer, businesses and marriages gone bad. Some Saturday’s heroes lost their way, others used football to find faith. The competition took on new and different meaning. Who could have predicted such outcomes?

It’s all here, in words of those who lived this epic journey, supported by dozens of period photos and clever original illustrations from award-winning artist Bill DeOre. In his Beyond The Big Shootout – 50 Years of Football’s Life Lessons, author Mark S. McDonald has emerged from his own football past to create a historical narrative on a giant canvas, unlike any other.

For some, the game itself was cruelly damaging. For others, it brought dance-in-the-street joy. But today, looking back, who really won? Was there really a loser?

After reading this one, you will know.

All Clinton School Speaker Series events are free and open to the public. Reserve your seats by emailing publicprograms@clintonschool.uasys.edu or by calling (501) 683-5239.

75 years ago, first USS Little Rock was launched

On August 27, 1944, the first USS Little Rock was launched in Philadelphia at the Cramp Shipbuilding Company shipyards.  A 10,000 ton Cleveland Class light cruiser, it first touched water in the Delaware River.

The sponsor of the ship (who broke the champagne bottle on the hull) was Ruth May Wassell, the wife of Little Rock alderman Sam Wassell.  The main address was delivered by Congressman Brooks Hays, whose district included Little Rock.  A crowd of 5,000 was gathered to witness the launch.

According to the Associated Press Congressman Hays called light cruisers, “the hottest item of naval combat.”

The congressman further elaborated:

The people of Little Rock are proud to have such a ship as this bear their city’s name.” said Mr. Hays. “Even those of us who know little about the classification of naval vessels know that the cruisers have distinguished themselves in the Pacific war and that this is the outstanding type of combat vessel for that area. The navy men tell us that the cruiser is the ‘work horse of the navy.’ big enough to go into any battle, fast enough to lead any task force.

Carrying, as it has, the heaviest load in the Pacific where the greatest battles have taken place, the cruisers have added luster to naval history. We hope that, in the time remaining before our enemies are put down, the Little Rock will take her place along side the Boise, the San Francisco, the Helena,and the Chicago, preserving the prestige of the cruisers.

We are glad to honor the workmen and the company for which they work.  I am sure we are all impressed with the spirit of teamwork which produced the results we observe today.  In March 1943, the keel was laid and for 18 months materials for the ship have come from everywhere. The taxes to pay for it will be assessed against men and women of great and little resources. Teamwork from beginning to end did the job.

So with the war.  A glorious victory lies ahead, but there is much remaining to be done. Only teamwork can supply the dynamic power yet needed to complete that victory. Every ship launching is a reminder of the power that comes to a people who work together to achieve.”

Other guests at the ceremony included United States Senator John L. McClellan and Congressman and senator-elect J. William Fulbright. Alderman Sam Wassell was also present.  He and his wife hosted a dinner for the Arkansas delegation and other dignitaries the night before the christening while they were in Philadelphia.

At the request of the Secretary of the Navy, Little Rock Mayor Charles Moyer designated Mrs. Wassell for the honor of sponsoring the USS Little Rock. There are not details as to why Mayor Moyer made the designation.  A first cousin of Alderman Wassell, Dr. Corydon Wassell had been an early World War II hero and was a favorite of President Franklin Roosevelt.  Paramount had released a movie about him earlier in 1944. That may have been a reason for the designation.

The Little Rock City Council sent a bouquet of roses to the ceremony, fitting since the city’s nickname at the time was “City of Roses.” After the launch, Mrs. Wassell sent a telegram to Mayor Moyer and the Council

Thanks a million for the beautiful bouquet of red roses. They made the christening of the cruiser Little Rock perfect. I wish it could have been possible for you to have been present.  The cruiser is 600 feet long and will have a crew of 1,200 men.  I was so proud of our city.  Little Rock has something to be proud of.

The USS Little Rock (CL-92) was commissioned at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, on June 17, 1945.  After service during the end of World War II and the post-war era, it was decommissioned on June 24, 1949. After being refit, it was recommissioned on June 3, 1960. It was permanently decommissioned on November 22, 1976.  The following year it was towed to Buffalo where it has been a museum since then.

The current USS Little Rock was commissioned adjacent to the original USS Little Rock — the only time a new ship was commissioned next to the previous ship to bear its name.

50 Years ago – World Premiere of TRUE GRIT takes place in Little Rock at Cinema 150

Glen Campbell speaks with Larry McAdams of KATV at the opening of TRUE GRIT.

On June 12, 1969, the world premiere of the film TRUE GRIT took place at the Cinema 150.

Actor/singer (and Arkansas native) Glen Campbell was in attendance at the event, but another Arkansan connected to the movie – author Charles Portis, did not attend.

Portis’ objection was that the film was being used as a fundraiser for the Democratic Party of Arkansas, and he was a supporter of Governor Winthrop Rockefeller, a Republican. Portis described himself as a Rockefeller Democrat.  The next night, in Hot Springs, Portis hosted what was billed as the “Author’s Premiere.”

While Portis may have been absent (and there is no way that GOP stalwart John Wayne would have considered coming to the premiere), the Cinema 150 was sold-out.  Press accounts noted that attendees ranged from Senator J. William Fulbright and Rep. Bill Alexander to former office holders Orval Faubus and Bruce Bennett (who presumably took a break that evening from trying to prove who was the more ardent segregationist).

Quite a few in attendance also had their eye on 1970’s Democratic primaries including Attorney General Joe Purcell and Secretary of State Kelly Bryant.  No mention was made in the media if Charleston, Arkansas, attorney Dale Bumpers was in attendance.

The film was cheered by those in attendance, although some did comment about the presence of snow-capped mountains in the film that was set in Arkansas and Oklahoma. But that was a minor quibble. (The film was shot in Colorado.)

Following the premiere, the party continued under a big circus tent, set up that evening in the parking lot of the shopping center at the southwest corner of Asher and University (now the home to Murry’s Dinner Playhouse).

The Pryor Center for Arkansas Studies has compiled a video clip from the opening.  It can be viewed here.

Journalist Ernie Dumas discusses his new book tonight (6/10)

Veteran journalist and political observer Ernie Dumas will talk about his new memoir The Education of Ernie Dumas. He’ll sign copies of the book both before and after his talk, beginning at 5:30 p.m.

Dumas’s book traces the post-World War II evolution of Arkansas, beginning with the defeat of Governor Francis Cherry by Orval Faubus, the son of a hillbilly socialist, at the end of the Joseph McCarthy era, and leading up to Arkansas’s first president of the United States.

The book collects the mostly untold stories, often deeply personal, that reveal the struggles and tribulations of the state’s leaders—Cherry, Faubus, Winthrop Rockefeller, Dale Bumpers, David Pryor, John McClellan, J. William Fulbright, Bill Clinton, Jim Guy Tucker, and others.

Schedule of events:

  • Doors open at 5:00 p.m.
  • Book Signing: 5:30 p.m.
  • Talk: 6:00 p.m.

Co-sponsored by the Clinton School of Public Service and Political Animals Club.