Little Rock Look Back: Mayor Woodrow W. Mann

IMG_3231Future Little Rock Mayor Woodrow Wilson Mann was born on November 13, 1916, in Little Rock.  His tenure at Little Rock mayor was tumultuous from both things of his doing as well as events that catapulted him onto the international scene.

In 1955, he ran as the Democratic nominee for Mayor of Little Rock and defeated two term incumbent Pratt C. Remmel, a Republican.  He took office in January 1956 and immediately set about to make a lot of changes.  In addition to revitalizing the City’s bus system, and removing some color barriers at City Hall, he oversaw the dismantling of the copper dome on top of Little Rock City Hall (as opposed to the repair of the dome championed by Mayor Remmel).

Mayor Mann was caught up in a grand jury investigation into purchasing practices at City Hall as well as within the City government in North Little Rock.  Partially in response to this, Little Rock voters approved a new form of government in late 1956.  Mayor Mann opposed the switch to the City Manager form and refused to set the election for the new officials but was ultimately compelled to do so.

He was also Mayor during the 1957 integration of Little Rock Central High School.  He sought to keep the peace and to broker a deal between President Dwight Eisenhower and Governor Orval Faubus.  His powers within the city were, no doubt, hampered because of his lame duck status as Mayor.  In November 1957 following the election of the new City Board of Directors, he chaired his last City Council meeting and left office.

In January of 1958, a series of articles written by Mayor Mann detailed his perspective on the events at Central High. These were carried by newspapers throughout the US.

Because of ill will toward him due to the Central High crisis (he was criticized by both sides) and grand jury investigation, Mayor Mann felt it would be difficult to maintain his insurance business in Little Rock. He moved to Texas in 1959 and remained there the rest of his life.  He died in Houston on August 6, 2002.

An entry about Mayor Mann in the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture can be found here.
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Little Rock Look Back: Pratt C. Remmel

One hundred and three years ago today, on October 26, 1915, future Little Rock Mayor Pratt Cates Remmel was born.  He was one of five children of Augustus Caleb and Ellen Lucy Remmel.  His father died when he was five, leaving his mother to raise six children (Gertie, Harmon – also known as Buck, Pratt, Gus, Rollie, and Carrie) by herself.  After graduating from high school in 1933, he received a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Virginia in 1937.  During World War II, he held the rank of Lieutenant in the US Navy.

The Remmel family had long been involved in politics.  A great-uncle had been the GOP nominee for governor and senator as well as serving on the GOP national committee.  Remmel’s father had been the state GOP chair and his mother was the Arkansas Republican national committeewoman for nearly three decades.  In 1938, shortly after returning from college, Remmel ran for the Little Rock City Council but did not win.  In 1940, he became chairman of the Pulaski County Republican Executive Committee. For the next several decades, he held various leadership posts in the GOP at the county, state and national level.

Remmel made his second bid for public office in 1951 when he challenged incumbent LR Mayor Sam Wassell, who was seeking a third term.  Wassell shared the often held belief at the time that the GOP could not win any races in Arkansas because of the aftereffects of Reconstruction.  Remmel ran a vigorous campaign and won by a 2-to-1 margin becoming Little Rock’s first Republican mayor since Reconstruction.  In 1953, he sought a second two year term and was re-elected.  Though he had worked to build the GOP in Arkansas, he did not emphasize party affiliation in this campaign. He stressed he had been “fair to all and partial to none.”  This campaign included a rally which was aired live on six LR radio stations at the same time, a first for Arkansas. He won by over 3,000 votes this time over alderman Aubrey Kerr.

Remmel had been mentioned as a potential candidate for US Senate or Congress in 1954.  Instead, he ran for governor and was defeated by Orval Faubus in his first race for the office.  Remmel did receive more votes for governor than any GOP candidate had since reconstruction.  He is credited with laying the groundwork for the future successful campaigns of Winthrop Rockefeller.

A month before the election in 1955, Remmel announced he would seek a 3rd term as Mayor.  While later admitting he should have stuck with the customary two terms, he also said he ran to give voters an alternative to the Democratic nominee Woodrow Mann.  Mann, like Remmel, was in the insurance business; Remmel considered Mann to have a questionable reputation.  Several statewide Democratic leaders campaigned for Mann, who beat Remmel by 1,128 votes, one of Little Rock’s closest mayoral elections.

As Mayor, Remmel served in leadership positions with the US Conference of Mayors and the Arkansas Municipal League.  It was during his tenure as mayor that the land which is now Rebsamen Golf Course was given to the City.

After he left office, Remmel returned to business interests and staying active in civic affairs.   He was an active leader of First United Methodist Church and Gideons International.  He was a Mason, a Shriner, a member of the American Legion, and the American Red Cross.   Remmel served on the Arkansas River Basin Commission and chairman of the Arkansas Waterways Commission.  In 1996, he was posthumously inducted into the Arkansas River Hall of Fame.

Married for many years to Catherine Couch, the couple had three children, Pratt Jr., Cathie and Rebecca.  Lake Catherine in Arkansas is named for his wife. Remmel Park and Pratt Remmel Road in Little Rock are named for Mayor Remmel.

Mayor Remmel died on May 14, 1991.  He and Catherine (who died in 2006) are buried in Oakland Cemetery.

LR Culture Vulture turns 7

The Little Rock Culture Vulture debuted on Saturday, October 1, 2011, to kick off Arts & Humanities Month.

The first feature was on the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, which was kicking off its 2011-2012 season that evening.  The program consisted of Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 4 in A, Op. 90, Rossini’s, Overture to The Italian Girl in Algiers, Puccini’s Chrysanthemums and Respighi’s Pines of Rome.  In addition to the orchestra musicians, there was an organ on stage for this concert.

Since then, there have been 10,107 persons/places/things “tagged” in the blog.  This is the 3,773rd entry. (The symmetry to the number is purely coincidental–or is it?)  It has been viewed over 288,600 times, and over 400 readers have made comments.  It is apparently also a reference on Wikipedia.

The most popular pieces have been about Little Rock history and about people in Little Rock.

Little Rock Look Back: 1958 Election continues LR High Schools closure

Signs placed outside of Little Rock’s high schools erroneously cited the federal government as the source of school closures. They also had a glaring spelling error.

On Saturday, September 27, 1958, voters in Little Rock approved the continuation of the closure of the city’s high schools.

Using legislation passed by the General Assembly in a hastily called special session in summer of 1958, Governor Orval Faubus had ordered the closure of Little Rock’s four public high schools in order to keep them from being desegregated.

But that state law only allowed the closure of Central, Hall, Horace Mann and Technical high schools on a temporary basis. In order for them to be closed permanently, the city’s voters must approve it by a vote.

The election date was to be set by Governor Faubus.  Originally scheduled for Tuesday, October 7, the date was moved to September 27.  Speculation for the new date selection centered on:

  • Faubus wanted it to be prior to the October 1 poll tax deadline so that only people who had paid their poll tax for the prior year were eligible
  • The election was on a Saturday.  Though Tuesday was the most common day of the week for elections, in the late 1950s Saturdays were used on elections as well.  The school board elections, for instance, were on Saturdays in some years.
  • On September 27, 1958, the Arkansas Razorbacks had a home football game in Fayetteville.

These were all designed to stifle voter turnout. In addition, the state law required a majority of eligible voters to approve reopening the schools.  The law also spelled out the confusing wording of the ballot question.  As historian Sondra Gordy points out in her book FINDING THE LOST YEAR, the ballot question was about only being for or against integration of the schools – it did not say anything about closure or opening of schools.

While the newly formed Women’s Emergency Committee did put forth efforts to educate voters about the issue and encourage a vote to reopen the schools, this nascent group was less than a fortnight old by the Saturday election day.  On the other side, the Governor campaigned for the remaining closure of the schools including in television appearances.

On that Saturday, Little Rock voters voted 19,470 to keep schools segregated to 7,561 to integrate them.

The WEC was disappointed but remained even more determined.  As some of the members have commented – having over 7,000 people be WITH them was encouraging.

It would be a long road ahead to reopen the schools.  It would take two more elections before the City’s four public high schools would reopen.

Little Rock Look Forward: Happy Birthday Annie Abrams

September 25 is the birthday of Annie Mable McDaniel Abrams.

Miss Annie or Mother Abrams or Mrs. Abrams.  Whatever you call her, she greets you with a smile, a hug, and sage advice.

As both a historian and a futurist, she has turned her house into a museum and library. As a writer and preservationist, she has worked to document history and ensure historical properties and neighborhoods will long remain in Little Rock.

Born in Arkadelphia, she moved to Little Rock at age 13 to attend Dunbar Junior High School and High School.  She studied education at Dunbar Junior College and later taught in Marianna. In 1956, she returned to Little Rock to work for the Arkansas Teachers Association.  After her return to the capital city, she married Orville Abrams.  In addition to raising her four children, Miss Annie has helped raise countless others through her advice, support, love, and sometimes strong admonitions.  She also found time to return to school and receive a degree from Philander Smith College.

Among her many accomplishments are leading efforts to rename High Street for Martin Luther King, 14th Street for Daisy L. Gatson Bates and 20th Street for Charles Bussey.  Through her community activities, she had worked closely with both Bates and Bussey.  She was a friend to the Little Rock Nine (who were only a few years younger than she) and to their families. Perhaps, because she has been a personal friend of many Arkansas and national politicians over the past 60 years, it should come as no surprise that she and her husband were also acquainted with Governor Faubus.

Whether a leading political figure or a small child, Miss Annie isn’t afraid to give advice or to share her love.  Once an educator, always an educator, she loves to learn and teach. It is rare for her to miss a speech at the Clinton School or a Political Animals Club meeting.  (She is the Helen Thomas of the Political Animals Club — always given the first question when she is present.)

In recognition of all her efforts she has been recognized with an honorary doctorate from Philander Smith College, the Brooks Hays Award, and an award award from the national Martin Luther King Jr. Commission.  In 2010, she was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame.

Little Rock Look Back: Satchmo Criticizes Ike over Little Rock

As the Civil Rights movement started taking hold in the mid-1950s, many African American entertainers were vocal in their support.  Louis Armstrong generally stayed silent.  Until, that is, September 17, 1957.

That night, in Grand Forks, North Dakota, Armstrong blasted President Dwight Eisenhower for his lack of action to make Governor Orval Faubus obey the law.  This was in an interview conducted by a 21 year old University of North Dakota journalism student named Larry Lubenow.

Journalist David Margolick wrote about the incident in The New York Times in September 2007 in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of the integration of Little Rock Central High School.  He recounted how the story, written for the Grand Forks Herald, was picked up all over the country.  The entire Margolick piece can be read here.  Margolick tells that when Armstrong was given the chance to back off the comments, he asserted that he meant all of it.

On September 24, 1957, the night that the 101st Airborne was being mobilized to come into Little Rock, Armstrong sent Eisenhower a telegram again criticizing him for lack of action. (It appears this was sent by Armstrong without knowledge of the President’s plans for intervention.) Armstrong used colorful language which sarcastically spoofed the “Uncle Tom” moniker which some of his critics had bestowed when they felt he was not doing enough for Civil Rights.  The Eisenhower Presidential Library has a copy of that telegram.

The incident between Satchmo and Ike was the basis for two different plays: Terry Teachout’s Satchmo at the Waldorf and Ishmael Reed’s The C Above C Above High C.

Little Rock Look Back: Ike meets with Orval

On September 14, 1957, in an attempt to end the stalemate in Arkansas, President Dwight D. Eisenhower met with Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus.  The meeting was brokered by Rep. Brooks Hays, whose district included Little Rock.

The meeting took place in Newport, Rhode Island, where the President was vacationing.  After exchanging pleasantries, the President and Governor adjourned to the Presidents office where they met privately for about twenty minutes.  During that conversation, Faubus proclaimed to the President that he was a law abiding citizen and discussed his own World War II service.  President Eisenhower suggested to Faubus that as a law abiding citizen, he should change the National Guard’s orders so that they protected the Little Rock Nine, not kept them from the building.  He reminded Faubus that the Justice Department was prepared to issue a injunction against him and that the governor would undoubtedly lose in court.

Following their conversation, Congressman Hays and U.S. Attorney General Herbert Brownell Jr.  joined the two in a larger office and continued conversations for approximately another 100 minutes.

When the meeting was over, the President felt like Faubus had agreed to refocus the mission of the National Guard and allow the Little Rock Nine to enter.  The President’s statement to the press thanked Faubus for his cooperation.  Upon returning to Little Rock, Faubus issued his own statement which did not address the President’s statement directly.  He did not even mention the National Guard or the students.

Apparently, President Eisenhower felt betrayed by the Governor’s actions.

The stage was set for these two to continue their face off.