Scenes from the Clinton Presidential Center Dedication on Nov. 18, 2004

Fifteen years ago, I was on the top level of the press riser during the Clinton Presidential Center dedication. I was the northernmost person on the riser through most of the ceremony. The only people who received more wind or rain than I were the sharpshooters on the rooftop.

Here are some of the photos I took that morning.

Early morning on the Library Site

Dawn is breaking, and a break in the rain on November 18, 2004. Hopes were improving.

Andrew DeMillo (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette) and Lance Turner (Arkansas Business) in the print media rows of the press riser. DeMillo is now with Associated Press.

Mayor Jim Dailey prepares to be interviewed by Candy Crowley on CNN.

Crowds gathering.

As the rains started, staffers sought coverage.

The Philander Smith College Choir performed.

The Lyon College Drum and Pipe Band performed.

The Color Guard preparing to enter the ceremony.

The First Ladies entering the ceremony. Barbara Bush (center of the photo) looks like she is having fun!

The Presidents entering the ceremony without umbrellas.

President Jimmy Carter addresses the crowd.

President George H W Bush addresses the audience.

President George W. Bush addresses the gathering.

First Lady Hillary Clinton delivering her remarks (and getting even wetter due to an off center umbrella placement).

President Bill Clinton closing out the ceremony with his comments.

Daisy Bates, born 105 years ago on Nov. 11, 1914

Daisy Lee Gatson Bates and her husband were important figures in the African American community in the capital city of Little Rock.  Realizing her intense involvement and dedication to education and school integration, Daisy was the chosen agent after nine black students were selected to attend and integrate a Little Rock High School.

Bates guided and advised the nine students, known as the Little Rock Nine, when they enrolled in 1957 at Little Rock Central High School. President Clinton presented the Little Rock Nine with the Congressional Gold Medal and spoke at the 40th anniversary of the desegregation while he was in office.

Daisy Bates was involved in more than the Little Rock Nine.  In January 1956, she led 27 African American students in their attempt to integrate four Little Rock schools.  While the efforts were not successful, they did serve to put the Little Rock School District on notice that the African American community was expecting action on school integration.

In 1959, she was arrested for refusing to provide City leaders with the membership of the local NAACP chapter. The case ended up going to the US Supreme Court as Daisy BATES et al., Petitioners, v. CITY OF LITTLE ROCK et al.  The decision had far-reaching impact in stopping government entities from requiring membership rolls as a means of intimidation or curbing the right of public assembly.

When Mrs. Bates died, a memorial service was held at Robinson Center on April 27, 2000.  Among the speakers were President Bill Clinton, Secretary of Transportation Rodney Slater, and Rev. Rufus K. Young, pastor of the Bethel AME Church.  Others in attendance included Lt. Gov. Winthrop Paul Rockefeller, Mayor Jim Dailey, Presidential diarist Janis Kearney, former senator and governor David Pryor, and five members of the Little Rock Nine:  Carlotta Walls Lanier, Ernest Green, Minnijean Brown Trickey, Jefferson Thomas, and Elizabeth Eckford.

It was during his remarks at the service that President Clinton announced he had asked that Bates’ south-central Little Rock home be designated as a national historic landmark.

20 years of indoor mural at Little Rock City Hall

On October 28, 1999, a mural was dedicated inside Little Rock City Hall.  Painted by artists Donald Gensler and Charlotte Allison, it was created to honor the City for its assistance in saving the Kramer School building.  As calendars everywhere were poised to turn from 1999 to 2000, it looked back to a time when the 20th Century was on the horizon.

Gensler and Allison drew inspiration for the mural from images they saw in old photographs. They were surprised to see photos of white and African American men working together at the original port of Little Rock which existed at La Petite Roche in what is now Riverfront Park. The photo was from the late 1800s before Jim Crow laws were fully enforced in Little Rock which separated the races more fully.

The only image in the mural that was not taken from an old photo is the mother holding the young baby. A fellow Kramer School resident and her young child posed for that photo. (Given that it was 20 years ago, that child is soon to be 21.)

At the dedication ceremony, held in Little Rock City Hall’s rotunda, Gensler and Allison as well as Mayor Jim Dailey spoke.   Joe Terry, a local actor and dancer who was also a Kramer School resident, sang “Old Man River” from Show Boat.

Gensler and Allison worked on the painting inside City Hall for a couple of weeks. They would often stop what they were doing to talk to City Hall employees and visitors to the building about the process of painting a mural.

While neither of the two artists currently live in Little Rock, a piece of them remains in this lasting tribute.

At the time, the Kramer School was serving as an artists cooperative.  While the building is no longer fulfilling that purpose, the efforts to make it thus saved it from a wrecking ball.  (The burgeoning effort of Artspace to create a live/work space in Little Rock would not repeat the Kramer School scenario because Artspace will maintain ownership of their facility guaranteeing its mission remains arts-based.)

Birth of Little Rock’s 42nd Mayor – Charles E. Taylor

Bill Clinton has the distinction of being both the 42nd President of the United States and the 42nd Governor of Arkansas.  But the 42nd Mayor of Little Rock was Charles E. Taylor.

On September 15, 1868, future Little Rock Mayor Charles E. Taylor was born in Austin, Mississippi.  After locating to eastern Arkansas, his family moved to Little Rock around 1880.

Taylor graduated from Scott Street High School in Little Rock and proceeded to work for various hardware stores and other businesses.  In 1895 he married Belle Blackwood, with whom he would have four children.

In 1910, Taylor announced his intention to run for mayor of Little Rock.  Though he had never held elective office, he had been involved in several civic organizations.  Taylor was the main challenger to Alderman John Tuohey.  Seen as a reformer, Taylor initially lost to Tuohey.  But after an investigation of voter fraud and a subsequent runoff, Taylor was elected Mayor.

Upon taking office in August 1911, Mayor Taylor focused on improving health conditions in the city, upgrading the fire department and enhancing the overall moral tone of the city.

As a progressive of the era, he fought against gambling, drinking and prostitution.  He created a Health Department and enhanced the City Hospital.  His efforts led to a decrease in the death rate in Little Rock.  As mayor, Taylor introduced motorized vehicles to the Fire Department.  He also led the City Council to establish building and electrical codes.  Mayor Taylor also oversaw the construction of the 1913 Beaux Arts Central Fire Stations (which today serves as the City Hall West Wing).

Under his leadership, the City of Little Rock annexed Pulaski Heights. One of the selling points to Pulaski Heights residents was Mayor Taylor’s ability to provide modern services such as paved streets, water mains, fire hydrants and street lights.

Though neither his 1911 Parks Master Plan nor his dreams for a civic auditorium came to fruition, they paved the way for future successes in both of those areas.

Funding for projects continued to be a problem throughout Mayor Taylor’s four terms in office.  He believed that one obstacle to city funding was the prohibition by the state constitution against cities issuing bonds.  Though that ban has since been lifted, Taylor tried three times unsuccessfully to get it changed while he was Mayor.

In April 1919, Taylor left office after having served eight years.  He was the longest serving Mayor of Little Rock until Jim Dailey served in the 1990s and 2000s.  Following several business ventures, Taylor moved to Pine Bluff and led their chamber of commerce from 1923 through 1930.

Mayor Charles E. Taylor died in Pine Bluff in 1932. He was buried at Oakland Cemetery in Little Rock.

During his time in office, Mayor Taylor was presented with an unofficial flag of Little Rock by a group of citizens.  During Mayor Dailey’s tenure, that flag was restored by some private citizens and presented to the City.  It is framed on the 2nd Floor of Little Rock City Hall.