Little Rock Culture Vulture

Cultural events, places and people in the Little Rock area

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LR Women Making History – Charlotte Stephens

Charlotte Andrews Stephens was the first African American teacher in the Little Rock School District.  Between 1910 and 1912, when an elementary school for African Americans was named after her, she became the first woman to have a public building in Little Rock named after her.  For nearly fifty years, Stephens Elementary (which is now in its third building) would be the only LRSD building named after a woman.

Born into slavery, Charlotte Stephens was educated first by her father who ran a private school in what is now Wesley Chapel UMC.  At the age of 15, she started teaching at the Union School to finish out the term of a white teacher who had become ill.  She taught for 70 years, retiring at age 85 in 1939.

From 1870 to 1873, she attended college at Oberlin College, though not always every semester. (It is possible she was the first African American woman from Arkansas to attend college, but that cannot be verified.)  During her career with the LRSD, she taught students in all grades. She was twice principal of Capitol Hill School, and later headed the high school Latin Department.  At the time of her retirement, she was librarian of Dunbar High School.

The land on which Stephens Elementary now sits was once owned by Charlotte Stephens.  She donated the land and attended the 1950 dedication of the second Stephens Elementary.  That building was torn down in 1994 to make way for the current Stephens Elementary.  Some of her grandchildren attended the dedication of the new and current Stephens Elementary.



LR Women Making History – Mollie Irvin

Mollie Irvin spent her life serving others.  She was a wife, mother, and grandmother. She was a volunteer in her church and her children’s schools.  She helped her friends.  She may have never seen herself as someone who would start spending every Tuesday night at Little Rock City Hall.

But she did.

Miss Mollie, as she came to be known at City Hall, had long been active in the Cloverhill/Pennbrook Neighborhood.  For many years, she served as president of the neighborhood association where she organized crime watches, police night outs and 4th of July celebrations.

When a young lady was injured crossing John Barrow in front of Henderson Middle School, Miss Mollie sprang into action.  She felt there needed to be a stoplight on the street.  She launched a campaign to have a stoplight installed at John Barrow Road and Cloverhill Road.  At the time the City did not have the money for the necessary widening and installation of the light, but was expecting it after the 2003 passage of capital bond improvements.  To make sure the City did not forget her request, Miss Mollie would come to every meeting. Sometimes she would be by herself, other times she would have guests. She was always polite and forceful with grace and humor when she made her plea.

Finally, the effort paid off.  She was actually tasked with flipping the switch to turn on the traffic signal.

Her goal met, Miss Mollie did not stop coming to City Hall.  After sitting through all those meetings, she had found herself interested in a variety of issues. She would attend the City Board meetings, neighborhood meetings, public budget meetings, and just about any other City meeting as a way to learn more. She was contacted by others for advice on how to lobby.   Her efforts were recognized nationally when the Cloverhill/Pennbrook Neighborhood was named Neighborhood of the Year by Neighborhoods USA.

Miss Mollie was as much a fixture at City Hall as city staff and elected officials.  When the holidays rolled around, Miss Mollie would show up at City Hall with individually prepared baggies full of baked goods for City officials.  She was also a fixture at Henderson Middle School as a volunteer.

Throughout her new career in civic engagement, she continued to be devoted to her family, her church, and her friends.  (She would regularly meet with friends she had known since elementary school.)

Following a brief illness, Miss Mollie died in 2016.  But her legacy lives on in the lives she touched and in a stoplight at John Barrow Road and Cloverhill Road.

Little Rock Look Back: Bombing of the Carlotta Walls Home

On February 9, 1960, a bomb was detonated at the home of Carlotta Walls. One of the Little Rock Nine as a sophomore, she was now in her senior year at Little Rock Central High.  This followed the September 1959 Labor Day bombings in Little Rock.

The bomb went off at approximately 11:00pm.  The blast could be heard for two miles from the house (located at 1500 S Valentine St.). Carlotta’s mother, Juanita, and sisters were at home with her, though her father, Cartelyou, was at his father’s house at 3910 West 18th Street.  Thankfully all members of the family were not physically harmed.  Two sticks of dynamite were used for the bomb.  The blast removed brick and broke three windows in the Walls house.

According to media accounts, this bombing was the first in the United States directed at a student since the 1954 US Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education.  As such, it made national headlines.  Carlotta was not deterred.  She had no thought of dropping out of school.

Reaction in the community including the Women’s Emergency Committee deploring the action and the NAACP being outraged.  The Little Rock School District only stated that it was a matter for the police.  The Chamber of Commerce was concerned about the impact it would have on attracting industry.

The FBI came in to investigate in addition to the Little Rock Police Department.  Two African Americans, Herbert Monts and Maceo Binns, Jr., were convicted for causing the bombing. Binns’ conviction was thrown out because it was proven he was coerced into a confession.  Monts served twenty (20) months of a five year sentence.  The supposed motive was to build sympathy for the African American community.  Carlotta Walls LaNier has stated that she did not believe the men bombed her house.

Monts has petitioned the Arkansas Parole Board for a pardon. It is scheduled to be reviewed in September 2018.




Little Rock Look Back: Civic Leader John Herndon Hollis

On February 5, 1870, future Little Rock alderman and acting mayor John Herndon Hollis was born shortly before his family moved to what is now Cleveland County. His parents were originally from Georgia and came from prosperous and longtime families there.

The Hollis family came to Arkansas after the Civil War and settled in Union County. A portion of that county was carved off and became Dorsey County (named after a Republican US Senator from Arkansas) but was renamed Cleveland County after Grover Cleveland was elected President. Cleveland was the first Democrat to be elected President in over 20 years. This name change also reflected the political shift in Arkansas from the Reconstruction-led Republican politics to the Democratic Party politics which would dominate for the next century.

John Herndon Hollis was one of six children, and the only one with a middle name. Herndon had been his mother’s maiden name. As one of his brothers described their childhood in Cleveland County, “they all went to country schools in their home neighborhood, worked hard on the farm in the summertime, and were inside their little Methodist Church every time the doors were open.”

Around 1900, Hollis and his new wife Malinda M. “Linda” Taliaferro Hollis (formerly of Rison) moved to Little Rock.  Together the couple had six children. In Little Rock, Hollis worked in the banking industry. For years he worked for People’s Building and Loan Association.

Hollis was first elected to the Little Rock City Council in April 1904. He would serve as one of the Aldermen from the city’s Fourth Ward until April 1918.  This was on the western border of Little Rock at the time. The family lived at 1510 S. Schiller, which is one block east of Central High, though at the time neither the school nor its predecessor (West End Park) existed.  From 1907 until 1913 he also served on the Little Rock School Board.

In April 1908, at the first City Council meeting in the new City Hall, Mayor W. E. Lenon announced his resignation. Because the resignation was effective immediately, there was a vacancy in the office of mayor.  Hollis was selected by his colleagues to serve as acting mayor until a successor could be elected. So from April 1908 through June 1908, Hollis was the City’s chief political and executive leader.

Though he was never formally mayor (and did not resign his position as alderman), since 1908, Hollis’ name has appeared on the list of mayors of Little Rock. The reason seems to be as a sign of respect since there was a vacancy.

There previously had been acting mayors when the mayor would be absent on business or due to illness. But in those instances, the mayor had not resigned. This is the only instance in Little Rock history when a mayor resigned immediately with no successor in place. So John Herndon Hollis holds a unique role in Little Rock history.

After leaving the City Council, Hollis remained active in civic affairs.  He co-chaired a successful campaign in 1929, to raise a tax for a variety of civic issues.

Hollis’ wife died in 1920.  He later married Ann Jewell of Little Rock (who was a cousin of his first wife). They were married until his death on October 23, 1941.  Ann Hollis lived in Little Rock until her death in 1980.  The Hollis family is entombed in the mausoleum at Mount Holly Cemetery.

Both of John Herndon Hollis’ wives are distant cousins of the Culture Vulture, so he is particularly fond of John Herndon Hollis.


Little Rock Look Back: Opening of the Little Rock Public Library

On February 2, 1910, the Little Rock Public Library officially opened its doors.  There had been an open house the night before, but this was the first day of acquiring a library card and checking out books.

Various private libraries had existed sporadically in Little Rock throughout the 19th Century.  In November 1900, a Little Rock School District committee made the first inquiry into the the creation of a Carnegie Library in Little Rock.  Over the next several years, numerous entreaties were made, but funding for the City’s portion was an obstacle.  On December 17, 1906, the Little Rock City Council passed an ordinance to move forward with building, furnishing and equipping a library.  Finally, in February 1908, the City approved acceptance of $88,100 from Andrew Carnegie.  The building would be designed by Edward Tilton, who designed Carnegie libraries, working with local architect Charles Thompson.

Mary Maud Pugsley was hired as the first librarian for Little Rock in May 1909. She began her duties on September 15, 1909, in order to get ready for the opening of the library at the southwest corner of 7th and Louisiana Streets.

On February 2, 1910, formal circulation of books began.  J. N. Heiskell was issued library card number 1.  He was secretary of the Library’s Board of Trustees and had long been an advocate for a public library in Little Rock.  He had often used his bully pulpit as editor of the Arkansas Gazette to advocate for a public library since arriving in Little Rock in 1902.  (Years later — he lived until 1972 — he received a replica of the library card made out of gold.)

That first day of operation, 500 people had applied for library cards. The application process required one to be a Little Rock property owner or to have a property owner sign the application.

Within the first year of operation, 2.5% of Little Rock’s population of 45,951 had applied for a library card.

For more on the history of the transformation of the Little Rock Public Library into the Central Arkansas Library System, read Shirley Schuette and Nathania Sawyer’s From Carnegie to Cyberspace — 100 Years at the Central Arkansas Library System, published by Butler Center Books.


Little Rock Look Back: 27 students attempt to integrate LR schools in 1956

Arkansas Democrat photo by staff photographer Mr. Bisgood.

On Monday, January 23, 1956, twenty-seven African American students attempted to integrate four Little Rock schools.  By the end of the day, all four school principals had refused entry and some of the students had met with LRSD Superintendent Virgil Blossom.

Eight girls who were students at Horace Mann High School arrived at Central High at 9:30 am accompanied by Daisy Bates and Frank W. Smith both of the NAACP.  One male student attempted to integrate Little Rock Technical High School.  Four students arrived at Forest Heights Junior High (accompanied by three adults) and fourteen students attempted to integrate Forest Park Elementary (accompanied by four adults).  Neither the Arkansas Gazette nor the Arkansas Democrat broke down the age or gender of the junior high and elementary students.

Though all were referred to meet with Mr. Blossom, only the young women from Horace Mann visited with him.  After the conversation both he and Mrs. Bates declared the conversation had been friendly.   Mr. Blossom, in denying the request, noted that the Little Rock School District had a plan for integration. To allow them to integrate immediately would have been going against the plan.  The integration plan was connected to the completion of the new high school.  If it were ready to open in the fall of 1957, then integration at the high schools would start then.  The newspapers noted that there was no timeline for when it would extend down to the junior high and elementary levels.

That evening, Rev. J. C. Crenchaw, the president of the Little Rock NAACP, issued a statement.  In it he expressed frustration that the LRSD was vague on its timeline for integration.  He noted that the students lived near the schools which they tried to integrate and were therefore forced to travel several extra miles each day to attend school.  He also commented that the young man who attempted to enroll at Tech was not afforded the training available there at his current school.

The Arkansas Democrat ran a photo of the meeting with Mr. Blossom.  It identified the seven students who were pictured.  No mention was made as to whether the eighth student was present but not photographed, or if she did not attend the meeting.  As was the practice at the time, the addresses of the students were listed by their names.  Based on those addresses, the students lived between 0.4 and 0.9 miles from Central High School and were between 2.1 and 3.2 miles away from Horace Mann High School.  Of the seven students in the photo, two were seniors, three were juniors, and three were sophomores.  None of the students named became part of the Little Rock Nine who did integrate Central High twenty-one months later.

On January 24, the Gazette editorial writer opined they were glad for the amicable nature of the conversations. They hoped it did not affect the good race relations in Little Rock.  The writer concluded by saying they did not want it to incite extremists (but did not specify if they viewed the extremists as being for or against integration.)


Little Rock Look Back: Frederick Kramer

Mayor KramerOn December 29, 1829, future Little Rock Mayor Frederick G. Kramer was born in Halle, Prussia.  In 1848, he immigrated to the United States.  Kramer enlisted in the United States Army and served in the Seventh Infantry until his discharge at Fort Gibson, Indian Territory, in July 1857. After his discharge, Kramer settled in Little Rock, and became a citizen in 1859. He married Adaline Margaret Reichardt, an emigrant from Germany, in 1857. They had six children Louisa, Mattie, Emma, Charles, Fred, and Henry.

From 1869 to 1894, Kramer served on the Little Rock School Board.  He was the first School Board president.  Among his other civic activities were serving as president of the Masonic Mutual Relief Association, a founder of the Mount Holly Cemetery Commission, and a founder of Temple B’nai Israel.  In 1875 he and F. A. Sarasin opened a mercantile business. Kramer later became the president of the Bank of Commerce.

Frederick Kramer was elected Mayor of Little Rock in November 1873.  He served until April 1875, when a new Arkansas Constitution took effect.

From November 1869 through March 1875, the City Council President presided over City Council meetings and signed ordinances, performing many of the duties formerly ascribed to the Mayor.  As such, during his Mayoral tenure from 1873 to 1875, Kramer was the Chief Executive of the City but did not preside over Council Meeting.  When he had served on the City Council, however, Kramer had been elected President of the Council and had presided over Council meetings from October 1871 to May 1872

Kramer was returned to the Mayoralty in April 1881 and served three more terms leaving office in April 1887.  His tenure as an Alderman and as Mayor overlapped with his service on the school board.

A new Little Rock elementary school which opened in 1895 on Sherman Street was named the Fred Kramer Elementary School in his honor.  Though the building’s bell tower was removed in the 1950s, the structure still stands today.  It now houses loft apartments.

Frederick G. Kramer died on September 8, 1896, in Colorado Springs, Colorado.  A few months earlier, he had traveled there with his wife and daughter Emma to recuperate from an illness. He is buried in Oakland Cemetery.