Birth of Little Rock Mayor James Woodson (aka – future Ron Swanson)

On July 14, 1848, future Little Rock Mayor James Alexander Woodson was born in North Carolina.  The son of two prominent eastern families, he and his parents moved to Pine Bluff in 1849.  His father died within two weeks of the family’s arrival in Arkansas.

With the outbreak of the Civil War, he enlisted as a drummer boy in the Ninth Arkansas infantry but was discharged because of his youth. He worked as a clerk at a general store in Pine Bluff. After the Civil War ended, he attended school in Virginia and Maryland before returning Pine Bluff. Upon his return he worked in the steamboat business and eventually started working in railroads. He was instrumental in putting together one of the forerunners of the Missouri Pacific Railroad and worked for them for 18 years.

Woodson moved to Little Rock in March 1881 and continued working for the railroad until 1891.  Working in the mercantile business allowed him more time to be engaged in civic affairs.  In 1895 he was elected mayor.   He handily defeated former mayor W. G. Whipple who was seeking to return to office.

During Mayor Woodson’s tenure, he oversaw renovations of the 1867 Little Rock City Hall (which was located at the time on the north side of Markham between Main Street and Louisiana Street).  He also championed the construction of a city hospital and the first free bridge across the Arkansas River.  Mayor Woodson was reelected in April 1897 and April 1899.

In April 1890, he resigned to take over the Arkansas and Southwestern Railway.  After restoring it to sound financial footing, he later led the Arkansas Asphalt Company.  That company provided the first asphalt for paving Little Rock city streets.

Woodson served as a director of the Little Rock board of trade (forerunner to the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce), director of the Mercantile Trust Company and president of the state board of trade (forerunner of the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce).

Woodson married Virginia Lanier in 1868.  They had six children, five of whom lived to adulthood.  Mayor Woodson died on October 19, 1908 and is buried in Mount Holly Cemetery.  His wife lived until 1937 and is buried next to him.  Also buried in Mount Holly are their children James Alexander Woodson, Benjamin Morehead Woodson and Gertrude Woodson Hardeman; each of whom died before their mother.  Mrs. Hardeman’s husband and son are also buried in Mount Holly.

Some have noted his resemblance to actor Nick Offerman of the show “Parks and Recreation.”

Little Rock Look Back: First Basketball Game in Little Rock

Very few sports can have a definitive “this was the first game in Little Rock” moment. But basketball does.

On April 7, 1893, the Arkansas Gazette ran stories about the final day of horse racing at Clinton Park racetrack (the park stretched roughly from what is today’s Clinton Presidential Park through the East Village to Clinton National Airport), the men who were soon to take office as aldermen met to plan for their upcoming City Council terms, and a preview of a new sport coming to Little Rock.

Less than two years earlier in Springfield, Massachusetts, a YMCA instructor named James Naismith had invented the new game of Basket Ball (then spelled with two words).  The sport caught on in popularity and spread throughout the country through the network of YMCAs.

Now, on April 7, 1893, Little Rock residents would get their first glimpse of the game.  Two hundred men and women gathered at the Little Rock YMCA (located at the northeast corner of Fourth and Main Streets) to see the game, which started at 8:30pm.

The Little Rock YMCA team (which had only formed the night before) took on the Pine Bluff YMCA team.  The Pine Bluff young men had been practicing for six months.  The results of the game reflected that.  At the end, Pine Bluff had scored 70 points and Little Rock had scored 9 points.

Following the game, the Little Rock chapter hosted both teams for refreshments.  Little Rock was scheduled to go to Pine Bluff to play again during the YMCA statewide convention at the end of April.

From those meager beginnings, Little Rock has seen its fair share of basketball triumphs.

Making History: African-American Mayors in Arkansas is topic of noon conversation today at the Clinton Presidential Center

Clockwise from left: Smith-Creer, Washington, McGill, Scott

Today at noon, the Clinton Presidential Center will host a program featuring four African-American mayors from across Arkansas.

The panel will be moderated by former Little Rock Mayor Lottie Shackelford, who was Little Rock’s first female mayor and second African-American mayor.

The program will feature the newly elected Mayor Veronica Smith-Creer of El Dorado, Mayor George McGill of Fort Smith, Mayor Frank Scott, Jr. of Little Rock, and Mayor Shirley Washington of Pine Bluff, who was first elected in 2016.

125 years of Basketball in Little Rock

On April 7, 1893, the Arkansas Gazette ran stories about the final day of horse racing at Clinton Park racetrack (the park stretched roughly from what is today’s Clinton Presidential Park through the East Village to Clinton National Airport), the men who were soon to take office as aldermen met to plan for their upcoming City Council terms, and a preview of a new sport coming to Little Rock.

Less than two years earlier in Springfield, Massachusetts, a YMCA instructor named James Naismith had invented the new game of Basket Ball.  The sport caught on in popularity and spread throughout the country through the network of YMCAs.

Now, on April 7, 1893, Little Rock residents would get their first glimpse of the game.  Two hundred men and women gathered at the Little Rock YMCA (located at the northeast corner of Fourth and Main Streets) to see the game, which started at 8:30pm.

The Little Rock YMCA team (which had only formed the night before) took on the Pine Bluff YMCA team.  The Pine Bluff young men had been practicing for six months.  The results of the game reflected that.  At the end, Pine Bluff had scored 70 points and Little Rock had scored 9 points.

Following the game, the Little Rock chapter hosted both teams for refreshments.  Little Rock was scheduled to go to Pine Bluff to play again during the YMCA statewide convention at the end of April.

From those meager beginnings, Little Rock has seen its fair share of basketball triumphs.

Little Rock Look Back: Mayor James A. Woodson

IMG_0298On July 14, 1848, future Little Rock Mayor James Alexander Woodson was born in North Carolina.  The son of two prominent eastern families, he and his parents moved to Pine Bluff in 1849.  His father died within two weeks of the family’s arrival in Arkansas.

With the outbreak of the Civil War, he enlisted as a drummer boy in the Ninth Arkansas infantry but was discharged because of his youth. He worked as a clerk at a general store in Pine Bluff. After the Civil War ended, he attended school in Virginia and Maryland before returning Pine Bluff. Upon his return he worked in the steamboat business and eventually started working in railroads. He was instrumental in putting together one of the forerunners of the Missouri Pacific Railroad and worked for them for 18 years.

Woodson moved to Little Rock in March 1881 and continued working for the railroad until 1891.  Working in the mercantile business allowed him more time to be engaged in civic affairs.  In 1895 he was elected mayor.   He handily defeated former mayor W. G. Whipple who was seeking to return to office.

During Mayor Woodson’s tenure, he oversaw renovations of the 1867 Little Rock City Hall (which was located at the time on the north side of Markham between Main Street and Louisiana Street).  He also championed the construction of a city hospital and the first free bridge across the Arkansas River.  Mayor Woodson was reelected in April 1897 and April 1899.

In April 1890, he resigned to take over the Arkansas and Southwestern Railway.  After restoring it to sound financial footing, he later led the Arkansas Asphalt Company.  That company provided the first asphalt for paving Little Rock city streets.

Woodson served as a director of the Little Rock board of trade (forerunner to the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce), director of the Mercantile Trust Company and president of the state board of trade (forerunner of the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce).

Woodson married Virginia Lanier in 1868.  They had six children, five of whom lived to adulthood.  Mayor Woodson died on October 19, 1908 and is buried in Mount Holly Cemetery.  His wife lived until 1937 and is buried next to him.  Also buried in Mount Holly are their children James Alexander Woodson, Benjamin Morehead Woodson and Gertrude Woodson Hardeman; each of whom died before their mother.  Mrs. Hardeman’s husband and son are also buried in Mount Holly.

In 2013 and 2014, Mayor Woodson was one of the characters portrayed at the annual Parkview High School “Tales from the Crypt” program at Mount Holly.

Some have noted his resemblance to actor Nick Offerman of the show “Parks and Recreation.”  Here is a Six Degrees game to link the two.

  • James Woodson
  • The Woodson community and Woodson Lateral is named for him
  • Growing up in the area, actor Billy Bob Thornton has been to Woodson Lateral
  • Bruce Willis appeared in BANDITS with Thornton.
  • “Friends” featured Willis and Paul Rudd as multi-episode guest stars
  • Rudd appeared in “Parks & Recreation” as a multi-episode guest star
  • Nick Offerman starred in “Parks & Recreation”

Black History Month Spotlight – Jimmy McKissic

bhm mckissicJames Henry “Jimmy” McKissic was born March 16, 1940 in Little Rock and was raised in Pine Bluff by his parents, Rev. James E. McKissic and Rosa Daniels McKissic.  He spent a lot of time in church and by age 3 was playing church hymns by ear. His mother was his piano teacher until age 13. At that point, she decided he needed professional instructors. He soon developed the dream of someday playing at Carnegie Hall.

Growing up in Pine Bluff in the late 1950s and early 1960s, he was well known for musical talent in both the white and African American communities.  He served as a musical coach for a Miss Pine Bluff contestant, Frances Jane Anderson, who later went on to become Miss Arkansas and first runner up to Miss America.  Today, she is better known as Frances Cranford.

 

As a young man Jimmy played for St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church and the Mt. Calvary Baptist, where his father pastored. He also played for other churches in Pine Bluff and the surrounding area.  He earned a B.S. in Music Education from A.M.&N. College (now UAPB) which was followed by additional study with Marjorie Petray of Berkeley, before receiving a Hertz Scholarship to further his piano and musical training in Geneva, Switzerland. He worked at the American Church in Paris, where he was in charge of young adults for two years.

Establishing residency in Cannes, France, Jimmy’s personality led him to become one of Europe’s most popular entertainers. He performed concerts all over the globe including Switzerland (Geneva, Lucerne, Davos), Franc (Paris, Biarritz, Nice, Cannes), Morocco, England, Kenya (Nairobi, Mombasa), Syria, Holland, Bangkok, Singapore and Brazil, among others. He performed in numerous cities and states in the USA including Arkansas, California, Mississippi, Texas and New York. During his lifetime, while spending 49 years of his life abroad Jimmy played for three U.S. presidents. He also performed 28 at Carnegie Hall in New York City.

After that debut, Jimmy considered it a privilege to invite people to attend his concerts “without charge”. He would say, “To whom much is given, much is required.” He often closed his classical concerts with hymns and/or popular songs as a reminder of his roots and his celebration of the universal nature of music. People from all over the world would come to hear him play from as far away as Australia or as close as Washington, D.C.  He later served on the musical faculty of the University of California, Berkeley.

A PBS documentary, “How Do You Get to Carnegie Hall,” chronicles his odyssey from Pine Bluff to New York, with scores of stops and detours in between.  In 1994, he was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame.  Regardless of where he lived or worked, he continued to visit Arkansas and support endeavors in the state.  In 2006, he lent his talents to a fundraiser for the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center.  Four years later, he made the rafters shake in capacity concerts at that now-opened museum as well as the Clinton Presidential Center.  In addition to his musical talent and winning personality, he was known for his unique fashion sense (deliberately not matching his shoes was one trademark).

Two years ago today (February 13, 2013), McKissic died. His funeral services were held on the campus of UAPB, where he had spent so much time growing up.

For more on Jimmy McKissic and other inductees into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame, visit the permanent exhibit at the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center. That museum is an agency of the Department of Arkansas Heritage.

Little Rock Look Back: James A. Woodson, LR’s 37th Mayor

IMG_0298On July 14, 1848, future Little Rock Mayor James Alexander Woodson was born in North Carolina.  The son of two prominent eastern families, he and his parents moved to Pine Bluff in 1849.  His father died within two weeks of the family’s arrival in Arkansas.

With the outbreak of the Civil War, he enlisted as a drummer boy in the Ninth Arkansas infantry but was discharged because of his youth. He worked as a clerk at a general store in Pine Bluff. After the Civil War ended, he attended school in Virginia and Maryland before returning Pine Bluff. Upon his return he worked in the steamboat business and eventually started working in railroads. He was instrumental in putting together one of the forerunners of the Missouri Pacific Railroad and worked for them for 18 years.

Woodson moved to Little Rock in March 1881 and continued working for the railroad until 1891.  Working in the mercantile business allowed him more time to be engaged in civic affairs.  In 1895 he was elected mayor.   He handily defeated former mayor W. G. Whipple who was seeking to return to office.

During Mayor Woodson’s tenure, he oversaw renovations of the 1867 Little Rock City Hall (which was located at the time on the north side of Markham between Main Street and Louisiana Street).  He also championed the construction of a city hospital and the first free bridge across the Arkansas River.  Mayor Woodson was reelected in April 1897 and April 1899.

In April 1890, he resigned to take over the Arkansas and Southwestern Railway.  After restoring it to sound financial footing, he later led the Arkansas Asphalt Company.  That company provided the first asphalt for paving Little Rock city streets.

Woodson served as a director of the Little Rock board of trade (forerunner to the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce), director of the Mercantile Trust Company and president of the state board of trade (forerunner of the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce).

Woodson married Virginia Lanier in 1868.  They had six children, five of whom lived to adulthood.  Mayor Woodson died on October 19, 1908 and is buried in Mt. Holly Cemetery.  His wife lived until 1937 and is buried next to him.  Also buried in Mount Holly are their children James Alexander Woodson, Benjamin Morehead Woodson and Gertrude Woodson Hardeman; each of whom died before their mother.  Mrs. Hardeman’s husband and son are also buried in Mount Holly.

In 2013, Mayor Woodson was one of the characters portrayed at the annual Parkview High School “Tales from the Crypt” program at Mount Holly.