Little Rock Look Back: 1911 Mayoral Election (both of them)

The 1911 Little Rock mayoral election brought progressivism to the forefront in Little Rock’s municipal politics.

After incumbent Mayor W. R. Duley chose not to seek another term, three candidates emerged in late 1910.  The first, J. K. Riffle, was an attorney.  The second was businessman Charles E. Taylor. The third candidate was longtime alderman John H. Tuohey.  An eight-year veteran of the City Council, he had spent the past two years as chair of the Police Committee.

Riffle focused on public safety and the City’s finances.  He charged that if Taylor were elected he would be a pawn of the Arkansas Brick and Manufacturing Company, which Riffle felt had run the city for fifteen years.  Taylor had been an officer of the company but resigned before seeking office.

Tuohey ran a low-key campaign relying on surrogates to make many of his speeches. He was suffering from rheumatism during the campaign.  Mayor Duley and Police Chief Frank McMahon were identified as his advisors.

Taylor, for his part, sought to bring reforms to the City.  A staunch Southern Baptist, (he was Sunday School Superintendent at Little Rock’s Second Baptist Church), he fought against gambling, drinking, and prostitution.  He sought to improve health conditions in the City in addition to enhancing the overall moral tone.

Taylor and Tuohey both claimed to offer a “Square Deal for Laborers and Businessmen Alike.” Taylor called for dramatic changes, while Tuohey espoused the need for gradual growth.

The Democratic Primary for Little Rock was on January 12, 1911.  The election was open only to white men who were members of the Democratic Party.  The results were 1,530 for Tuohey, 1,493 for Taylor, and 506 for Riffle.  It appeared that Tuohey had won by 37 votes.

Taylor and his allies charged that there were 323 illegal votes.  He alleged that the names of dead men and African Americans had been used by voters, as well as voters from North Little Rock.  Taylor requested the poll tax lists from each of the City’s wards.

The central Democratic Committee was uncertain if it could investigate the charges or if they should go to the courts.  On January 11, the Committee agreed to handle the situation.  It gave Taylor ten days to investigate and file charges.  They planned to meet on February 8 to hear both sides and declare a winner.

On January 26, Taylor and Tuohey jointly announced they had agreed to a winner-take-all special election to take place on February 7. (By that time the number of illegal votes had shrunk to 250 after a review of the poll tax books.)

The campaign was intense with both sides holding numerous rallies and blanketing newspapers with advertisements.  Taylor mused, “if Tuohey knew he was right, why did he agree to a new race?”

Only ten fewer votes were cast in the special election than had been cast during the original primary.  The result was Charles Taylor with 1,874 votes and John Tuohey with 1,645.

The April 1911 general election was its usual anti-climactic self with Taylor running unopposed.

The Charles Taylor era of Little Rock, which would last eight years, was about to begin.


Little Rock Look Back: Little Rock reacts to death of Martin Luther King, Jr.

On April 4, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated in Memphis.  Thankfully Little Rock did not see the unrest that many cities did.

Part of that was probably due to quick action by Governor Winthrop Rockefeller. The Governor released a statement fairly quickly expressing his sorrow at the tragedy and calling for a day of mourning. He also made the State Capitol available for the NAACP to have a public memorial, as well as worked with a group of ministers to host an interdenominational service.

Little Rock Mayor Martin Borchert issued a statement as well:

We in Little Rock are disturbed about the incident in Memphis. We are disturbed regardless of where it had happened.  Killing is not the Christian solution to any of our problems today.

In Little Rock, we feel we have come a long way in 10 years toward solving some of our problems of living and working together regardless of race, creed or color.

The city Board of Directors in Little Rock has pledged itself toward continuing efforts to make Little Rock a better place in which to live and work for all our citizens.

We feel the efforts of all thus far have proved we can live in harmony in Little Rock and are confident such an incident as has happened will not occur in Little Rock.  We will continue our most earnest efforts toward the full needs of our citizens.

The day after Dr. King was assassinated, a group of Philander Smith College students undertook a spontaneous walk to the nearby State Capitol, sang “We Shall Overcome” and then walked back to the campus.  President Ernest T. Dixon, Jr., of the college then hosted a 90 minute prayer service in the Wesley Chapel on the campus.

On the Sunday following Dr. King’s assassination, some churches featured messages about Dr. King.  As it was part of Holy Week, the Catholic Bishop for the Diocese of Little Rock had instructed all priests to include messages about Dr. King in their homilies. Some protestant ministers did as well. The Arkansas Gazette noted that Dr. Dale Cowling of Second Baptist Church downtown (who had received many threats because of his pro-integration stance in 1957) had preached about Dr. King and his legacy that morning.

Later that day, Governor Rockefeller participated in a public memorial service on the front steps of the State Capitol. The crowd, which started at 1,000 and grew to 3,000 before it was over, was racially mixed. At the conclusion of the ceremony, Governor and Mrs. Rockefeller joined hands with African American ministers and sang “We Shall Overcome.”

That evening, Trinity Episcopal Cathedral was the site of an interdenominational service which featured Methodist Bishop Rev. Paul V. Galloway, Catholic Bishop Most Rev. Albert L. Fletcher, Episcopal Bishop Rt. Rev. Robert R. Brown, Rabbi E. E. Palnick of Temple B’Nai Israel, Gov. Rockefeller, Philander Smith President Dixon, and Rufus King Young of Bethel AME Church.

Earlier in the day, Mayor Borchert stated:

We are gathered this afternoon to memorialize and pay tribute to a great American….To achieve equality of opportunity for all will require men of compassion and understanding on the one hand and men of reason and desire on the other.

Little Rock Look Back: L. Brooks Hays

BrooksHaysFor many years on a Sunday morning, the Brooks Hays Sunday School Class met at Second Baptist Church in downtown Little Rock.  Named for its longtime leader, the class continued for decades after he had retired to the Washington D.C. area.  Since today is a Sunday, and his birthday, this entry looks back at the life, career and legacy of Brooks Hays.

Lawrence Brooks Hays was born on August 9, 1898, in the Pope County town of London.  He grew up in Russellville and attended the University of Arkansas.  After military service in World War I and law school at George Washington University, he returned to Arkansas and practiced law with his father.  In 1925, he was named an Assistant Attorney General and moved to Little Rock.  A lifelong Southern Baptist, he joined Second Baptist Church.

His first entries into political races were not met with success.  He failed to attain the Democratic nomination for governor in 1928 and 1930. In 1933, he narrowly lost a race for Congress to David D. Terry.  Following that loss, he was appointed General Counsel to the U.S. Department of Agriculture by President Roosevelt.

In 1942, he was elected to Congress to succeed Terry.  Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, he was focused on foreign affairs. He was a leading proponent of religion as a way to fight Communism. His emphasis on faith was also evident when he became elected the President of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1957. He was only the second lay person, and last one to date, to have been selected to this post.

In Congress, Hays had been a proponent of seeking a middle road on issues of segregation. He was not an integrationist, but he did believe that some rights should be afforded to African Americans.  These efforts were met with disdain by both sides.  Hays denounced the Brown v. Board decision in 1954, but three years later was caught up in it.

With Governor Orval Faubus openly defying federal law, there was pressure on President Dwight Eisenhower to uphold the law.  Hays brokered a meeting with Faubus and Eisenhower, which did nothing to break the stalemate.  However, because he had worked to uphold the law, he was a target when he was on the ballot in 1958.  After defeating a segregationist candidate in the Democratic primary, Hays was surprised by a write-in candidate a week before the general election.  Dr. Dale Alford, a member of the Little Rock School Board, pulled an upset and defeated Hays.

Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson appointed Hays to a series of positions following that election.  In 1966, he ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.  He moved to North Carolina in 1968 to take a position with Wake Forest University. While in that state, he ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 1972.  Shortly thereafter he moved to Chevy Chase, Maryland, which would be his base until his death in 1981.  He is buried in Oakland Cemetery in Russellville.

Among the books he authored were Politics is My Parish, A Hotbed of Tranquility: My Life in Five Worlds, and A Southern Moderate Speaks.

His son, Steele Hays (named for the Congressman’s father) served on the Arkansas Supreme Court from 1981 to 1994. He had previously served on the Court of Appeals and as a Pulaski County Circuit Judge.


Gov. Davis vs. Baptist Church in 1902 today at Old State House

Jeff Davis2Today at noon, the Old State House will host another of its Brown Bag Lunch Lectures. This one is entitled Jeff Davis, Alcohol, and the Second Baptist Church Controversy of 1902.

In 1902, Arkansas’ notoriously divisive Governor Jeff Davis was spotted publicly drinking alcohol aboard a train. A firestorm of controversy resulted within the Second Baptist Church of Little Rock and Davis was thrown out of the congregation.

This lecture will reveal the roots of the controversy in an earlier fight over building the new state capitol building between Davis and former Governor James Eagle, chair of the deacons of the church.

Brian Irby is a library tech at the Arkansas History Commission. He received his B.A. and M.A. in history at the University of Central Arkansas.