Women Making History – Kathy Webb

While Kathy Webb has had many titles over her career in public service, Advocate for Others probably encompasses all of them.

One of the most important committees at the Arkansas General Assembly is the Joint Budget Committee.  It is chaired by a senator and a representative.  In 2011 and 2012, as a state representative, Kathy Webb became the first woman to chair the committee.  

Considering that the first woman to be sworn in to the Arkansas General Assembly (Erle Chambers) was from Little Rock, and the first woman to chair a standing committee of the General Assembly (Myra Jones) was from Little Rock, it is fitting that the first woman to chair Joint Budget was also from Little Rock.

While women had been chairing committees for two decades, no female had ever led this committee.  During her tenure, Rep. Webb received praise from people in both houses and both parties for her leadership.  She served in the Arkansas General Assembly from 2007 until 2012.  During that time, she was also named the most effective legislator by Talk Business

Now, she continues her public service in her second four-year term on the City of Little Rock Board of Directors.  She served as Little Rock’s vice mayor in 2017 and 2018. Director Webb grew up in Arkansas and graduated from Little Rock Hall High. She earned a degree from Randolph-Macon Woman’s College and attended graduate school at the University of Central Arkansas. She has also participated in the Senior Executives in State and Local Government program at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

After working in political advocacy in Washington D.C. and throughout the U.S. for several years, she spent over 20 years in the restaurant industry in Illinois, Tennessee, and Arkansas.

Her community involvement includes service on the UAMS College of Medicine Board of Visitors, Arkansas Hospice, and First United Methodist Church of Little Rock. She was the founding president of the Chicago-area affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

Director Webb has been honored by the Arkansas Kids Count Coalition, Just Communities of Arkansas, Arkansas Judicial Council, National Association of Women Business Owners, Sierra Club, Arkansas AIDS Foundation, Arkansas Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, Pulaski County CASA, Interfaith Alliance for Worker Justice, Arkansas AARP, Arkansas Hospitality Association, Arkansas Municipal League, Hendrix College and Black Methodists for Social Renewal.

She is the Executive Director of the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance. The Alliance is the statewide umbrella organization for Feeding America food banks, food pantries and agencies and hunger activists and the education and advocacy clearinghouse on hunger issues in Arkansas. Earlier in 2019, it was named Non-Profit of the Year at the Arkansas Business of the Year Awards.

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St. Pat’s Day with Pat Robinson, LR’s 45th mayor

Robinson

On St. Patrick’s Day in 1900, future Little Rock Mayor Pat L. Robinson was born.  He was born in a community outside of Arkadelphia, but moved to Little Rock with his parents.

By the 1920s, Robinson was a rising star of Little Rock Democratic politics.  In April 1929, just weeks after his 29th birthday, he was elected Mayor.  He had twice been elected as City Attorney (1926 and 1928) and was one of the youngest to serve in that position.

During Mayor Robinson’s tenure, he announced plans to construct a new airport.  That project led to the creation of what is now the Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport.  Mayor Robinson was also involved in helping Philander Smith College secure the property where it is now located.  In addition, during his tenure, what is now the Museum of Discovery was folded into the City of Little Rock.  Shortly after taking office, he championed several projects for approval by Little Rock voters. The projects he supported were approved; the ones he did not support did not pass.

Mayor Robinson ran afoul of some of the Democratic party leaders. While the extent of the discord is not exactly known, it IS known that shortly after taking office he confronted the City Council over a special election.  Mayor Robinson sat silently while the City Council voted to approve a special election with a variety of options for voters. Only after the Council approved it did he disclose he only supported three of the initiatives.  In a bit of political brinkmanship, the Council subsequently voted to cancel the election. The Mayor vetoed their vote.  The aldermen chose not to attempt an override (though they had the votes based on disclosures made to the public and the press).  It appears that the relationship between the Mayor and the City Council never recovered.

IMG_4532During this era in Little Rock, it was customary for an incumbent mayor to be given a second term. But City Clerk Horace Knowlton challenged Robinson in the primary.  It was a bitter campaign with Robinson linking Knowlton to disreputable denizens and Knowlton charging Robinson with “an orgy of spending.”  Robinson initially came out 17 votes ahead. But after a review and a lawsuit, it was found that Knowlton ended up with 10 more votes and became the nominee.  At the time, being the Democratic nominee was tantamount to election.

After he left office, Robinson practiced law for a few years in Little Rock and then left the city.  He married a woman from England, Arkansas in the 1930s, but by the 1940 census, he was listed as divorced and living as a lodger.  He later served in the Army during World War II.  Robinson died in June 1958, and is buried in Clark County.

Women Making History: Myra Jones

The late, great Myra Jones was born on March 8. So today we highlight her.

Myra Jones was elected to the Little Rock City Board in 1976. She served eight years on the Board, including four years as Vice Mayor of Little Rock.  She was the first female to serve as Vice Mayor of Little Rock.  In a nod to changing times, she was the first woman to be referred to in the City minutes by her own first and last name instead of being Mrs. followed by her husband’s name.

From 1985 to 1998, she served seven terms in the Arkansas House of Representatives and was the first woman to chair a standing committee:  the City, County and Local Government Committee.

Following her retirement from the legislature, she continued in business. She served on the board of Noram Energy (formerly ArkLa) for seventeen years becoming one of the first women from Arkansas to serve on a Fortune 500 Board. She later served as a local affairs lobbyist for the real estate industry. She once again became a fixture at Little Rock City Hall until her death in 2012.

A graduate of Oberlin College, she was a lifelong musician and would return in the summer to her native South Dakota to play clarinet with the Belle Fourche Cowboy Band. She had first joined the band as a high school senior.  Once it was reconstituted in 1980, the band (complete with white chaps, white hats, and red shirts) would play for the Black Hills Rodeo in Belle Fourche, march in the Fourth of July parade, and perform concerts in the area.

Little Rock Look Back: Suit filed calling to integrate LR public facilities

Attorney Wiley Branton, who filed the law suit

Attorney Wiley Branton, who filed the law suit

On March 8, 1962, 22 members of the Council on Community Affairs filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court against the city Board of Directors for the desegregation of “public parks, recreational facilities, Joseph T. Robinson Auditorium and all other public facilities.”  The members included journalists, dentists, attorneys, school teachers and other members of Little Rock’s African American professional class.  Attorney Wiley Branton, Sr., filed the suit.

Though the City’s Auditorium Commission was mentioned in the suit, they were not served with papers. So when media contacted them, they made no comment.

Historian John A. Kirk has written, “Members of the City Board were willing to admit that the desegregation of public facilities was ‘a foregone conclusion’ if the case went to court, but they remained committed to fighting the lawsuit if only to buy time to devise other methods to avoid desegregation.”

The decision was rendered in February 1963 that the City must integrate its public facilities.

In 1951, the City’s library facilities had been integrated followed by the bus system in 1956. Both of these had been accomplished without incident.  Of course the same was not said for the integration of the public schools in 1957.

In 1961, there had been attempts to have Robinson Auditorium integrated after Duke Ellington threatened to cancel a concert rather than play to a segregated crowd.  The Auditorium Commission refused to change its policy, and Ellington did not play the concert.

Based on efforts of the Council of Community Affairs working with white business leaders, downtown lunch counters and businesses were integrated starting in January 1963.  The efforts of the Council of Community Affairs and the white business leaders are commemorated in the Arkansas Civil Rights Heritage Trail with medallions in front of the Little Rock Regional Chamber building.

Women Making History – Lottie Shackelford

Lottie Shackelford served as mayor of Little Rock from January 1987 until December 1988. She was Little Rock’s 68th mayor and the first woman to serve in that capacity.

She was first appointed to the Little Rock Board of Directors in September 1978 to fill an unexpired term.  She later was elected in her own right and served until December 1992.  She was the first African American woman to ever serve on a governing body for the City of Little Rock.

She later served two terms on the Little Rock Airport Commission.  She also served as Vice Chairman of the Democratic National Committee from 1989 until 2014. She is the longest serving vice chair of the party.  She has been a delegate to every Democratic National Convention since 1980.

In recognition of all of her achievements, she has been included in the Arkansas Civil Rights Heritage Trail, the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame, and the Arkansas Women’s Hall of Fame.

Women Making History: Sharon Priest

Sharon Priest served as Little Rock’s 70th Mayor from January 1991 until December 1992.  She was a member of the Little Rock City Board of Directors from January 1987 until December 1994.  She had previously been involved with the City Beautiful Commission prior to her service on the City Board.  She continued that involvement and was also a leader of the Arts and Humanities Promotion Commission, serving several terms as chair.

From January 1995 until January 2003, she was the 31st Secretary of State for Arkansas.  She was the first woman elected to the position. (Nancy Hall held it from 1961 to 1963 following the death of her husband, longtime Secretary of State C. G. “Crip” Hall.)

Following her service as Secretary of State, she directed the Downtown Little Rock Partnership from January 2003 until March 2015.

Women Making History – City Director Lucy Dixon

Lucy Dixon was elected to the initial Little Rock Board of Directors in November 1957.  She previously had served for six years on the Little Rock School Board.

Mrs. Dixon is the only woman to have served on both the governing boards of the City and the school district.  Mrs. Dixon chose not to seek a second term and left the City Board on December 31, 1960.

Mrs. Dixon is the first woman to be elected to a City position without her husband having previously held that position.

Her father had a lumber business, in which she worked off and on throughout her lifetime. She served not only as an officer of the business, but had a desk at the office and participated in the daily business.  She was also very active in Methodist Woman functions in Little Rock and Arkansas.