JFK in LR

On October 3, 1963, President John F. Kennedy delivered remarks at the Arkansas State Fairgrounds.  Only a few weeks later, he would be felled by an assassins bullet in Texas.

In the speech, the President praised Arkansas’ congressional delegation including Senators John McClellan and J. William Fulbright and Congressmen Took Gathings, Bill Trimble, Wilbur Mills and Oren Harris.  Each of these men held senior leadership positions in key committees.  The main focus of the speech was to discuss President Kennedy’s vision for a new economy in the South.

The President was actually in the state to speak at the dedication of the Greers Ferry Dam. He agreed to make that appearance as a part of a negotiation with Congressman Mills as they were deadlocked over changes to the tax code.  He had previously visited Little Rock in 1957 when he came to the state to address the Arkansas Bar Association meeting in Hot Springs.

President Kennedy continued the string of 20th Century Presidents to visit Little Rock.  Presidents Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman had all visited while in office.  Woodrow Wilson, Herbert Hoover and Dwight Eisenhower all visited prior to attaining the presidency.

Little Rock Look Back: TR in LR AR

On October 25, 1905, President Teddy Roosevelt, recently elected to a four year term in his own right, made an appearance in Little Rock.

He was greeted at the train station by Governor Jeff Davis and was the guest of honor in a parade up Main Street to City Park (now MacArthur Park) in where a public meeting was held featuring remarks by the President.  During this remarks, speaking to a largely Democratic crowd, the Republican Roosevelt noted: “The candidate is the candidate of a party; but if the president is worth his salt he is the president of the whole people.”

According to media reports at the time, Main Street from Markham to Tenth was a solid mass of cheering spectators for the parade.  This was the first time a sitting President had spent time in Little Rock away from a train station. The only other incumbent President to visit Little Rock had been Benjamin Harrison, who had made only a brief layover.

Roosevelt would make three more visits to Arkansas.  In 1910, he spoke at the Arkansas State Fair in Hot Springs.  In April and September 1912, he made several campaign stops in the state as he was running to reclaim the presidency, this time heading the Progressive (or Bull Moose) ticket.  Though Roosevelt’s successor, William Howard Taft, would visit briefly once in office and once after leaving office, it would not be until Roosevelt’s cousin Franklin Delano Roosevelt visited in 1936, that another sitting President spent much time in the state after TR’s 1905 visit.

JFK in ARK (and specifically LR)

On October 3, 1963, President John F. Kennedy delivered remarks at the Arkansas State Fairgrounds.  Only a few weeks later, he would be felled by an assassins bullet in Texas.

In the speech, the President praised Arkansas’ congressional delegation including Senators John McClellan and J. William Fulbright and Congressmen Took Gathings, Bill Trimble, Wilbur Mills and Oren Harris.  Each of these men held senior leadership positions in key committees.  The main focus of the speech was to discuss President Kennedy’s vision for a new economy in the South.

The President was actually in the state to speak at the dedication of the Greers Ferry Dam. He agreed to make that appearance as a part of a negotiation with Congressman Mills as they were deadlocked over changes to the tax code.  He had previously visited Little Rock in 1957 when he came to the state to address the Arkansas Bar Association meeting in Hot Springs.

President Kennedy continued the string of 20th Century Presidents to visit Little Rock.  Presidents Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman had all visited while in office.  Woodrow Wilson, Herbert Hoover and Dwight Eisenhower all visited prior to attaining the presidency.

Little Rock Look Back: A few municipal primary races of yore

Taylor

Today is primary day in Arkansas.  Though City of Little Rock municipal races are non-partisan and won’t be on the ballot until November, that has not always been the case.

Between 1874 and 1957, usually winning the Democratic Primary was tantamount to election. So the municipal general elections were usually boring. (The only exception would be the three elections in which Pratt Remmel was the GOP nominee for mayor facing off against the Democratic nominee.)

The real drama was in the primary races.

The 1911 primary pitted crusading businessman Charles Taylor against a firebrand attorney and Alderman John Tuohey, a grocer. Each of the three tried to position himself as an outsider, though Tuohey was least successful in accomplishing this considering he was an alderman and the candidate of choice of the retiring mayor.

Riffle logged insults at both Taylor and Tuohey. Taylor sought to position himself as not just the candidate of the businessmen. As a progressive, he borrowed Teddy Roosevelt’s Square Deal motto and offered “A Square Deal for Everyone.” A Baptist Sunday School superintendent, he also campaigned against vice. Tuohey offered his own solutions to city issues but was hampered in the campaign by illness.

After the January 12, 1911, primary election day, Tuohey had 1530 votes, Taylor had 1493 and Riffle had 506. Taylor alleged 323 illegal votes were cast and sought the poll tax records to try to prove it. After he saw the poll tax lists, he reduced his charges to 250 illegal votes.

On January 26, Tuohey and Taylor agreed to a new, two-man primary (essentially a run-off) in an attempt to resolve the matter. After that race, Taylor had 1874 votes and Tuohey had 1645. Taylor went on to be elected mayor in April 1911 and would subsequently serve four two-year terms.

 

Robinson

When he took office in April 1929 having just turned 29 a few weeks earlier, Mayor Pat L. Robinson seemed to be a rising star in the Democratic Party. Within a few months, however, he found himself at odds with the Little Rock City Council on a variety of issues.

Some of these appear to have been of his own doing, partially due to youthful arrogance, and part of these were probably rooted in entrenched resistance to change. With the onset of the Great Depression six months into his term, the City’s already tight financial shape became even tighter. The aldermen and city clerk gave him no quarter (though some may have wanted to draw and quarter him).

Knowlton

In November 1930, City Clerk Horace Knowlton squared off against Mayor Robinson (no relation to Joe T.) in the Democratic primary. It was a particularly raucous primary with charges and counter-charges of corruption, malfeasance and misfeasance. In describing Mayor Robinson’s handling of the City finances, Mr. Knowlton declared the mayor had undertaken an “orgy of spending.”

The results after the election were  Knowlton, 4,537; Robinson, 4,554; and 61 votes for a third candidate. Robinson was declared the nominee. But Knowlton protested and filed suit. There charges of illegal voting and persons whose ballots were not counted. After an exhaustive investigation (over 1,800 pages of testimony were taken), the court found that neither side had willingly engaged in voter fraud or vote tampering. The painstaking analysis further found that Knowlton had received ten more votes than Robinson.

In April 1931, Knowlton won the general election and was sworn in as Little Rock mayor. Robinson continued to pursue the case and appealed to the Arkansas Supreme Court. In June 1931 (in the third month of Knowlton’s mayoral term), the Arkansas Supreme Court upheld the circuit court ruling that Knowlton had indeed won the primary.

 

Sprick

A little more than a decade later, the state’s high court would again be called on to weigh in on Little Rock’s Democratic primary for mayor. In December 1944, Alderman Sam Wassell and former Alderman Dan Sprick faced off in a particularly nasty race.  As World War II was drawing to a close, there were charges leveled which questioned patriotism. With both men having service on the Little Rock City Council, there were also plenty of past votes on both sides which could become fodder for campaigns.

Wassell

The election was on December 5, 1944. Sprick received 3,923 votes and Wassell 3,805. A few days later, Wassell filed suit claiming that there were people who voted who were not on the poll tax rolls and another group of voters who did not live in the ward in which they voted. Sprick countersued making the same charges against Wassell.

The case eventually ended up at the Arkansas Supreme Court, which remanded it back to the lower court. On March 26, 1945, Wassell dropped his case. This was only eight (8) days before the municipal general election.

Two years later, Wassell would challenge Sprick in the primary and be triumphant. Wassell would serve from 1947 until 1951.  Sprick would later return to politics and serve a decade in the Arkansas State Senate.

 

There are many more interesting primary and election stories to tell. Stay tuned…

JFK in LR and other parts of ARK

JFK LROn October 3, 1963, President John F. Kennedy delivered remarks at the Arkansas State Fairgrounds.  Only a few weeks later, he would be felled by an assassins bullet in Texas.

In the speech, the President praised Arkansas’ congressional delegation including Senators John McClellan and J. William Fulbright and Congressmen Took Gathings, Bill Trimble, Wilbur Mills and Oren Harris.  Each of these men held senior leadership positions in key committees.  The main focus of the speech was to discuss President Kennedy’s vision for a new economy in the South.

The President was actually in the state to speak at the dedication of the Greers Ferry Dam. He agreed to make that appearance as a part of a negotiation with Congressman Mills as they were deadlocked over changes to the tax code.  He had previously visited Little Rock in 1957 when he came to the state to address the Arkansas Bar Association meeting in Hot Springs.

President Kennedy continued the string of 20th Century Presidents to visit Little Rock.  Presidents Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman had all visited while in office.  Woodrow Wilson, Herbert Hoover and Dwight Eisenhower all visited prior to attaining the presidency.

Little Rock Look Back: November 8 Presidential Election Arkansas Newspapers

November 8 has been a Presidential Election Day in Arkansas six times.  The first time such a date happened in the US, Arkansas did not participate because it was 1864.  The times it has happened have been 1892, 1904, 1932, 1960, 1988, and today.

A look back at newspaper headlines from the previous years tells a lot about not only the elections, but also the way news was delivered.  For the 1892 and 1904 elections, only the Arkansas Gazette is available.  Though the Arkansas Democrat existed, it did not yet publish every day.  Tuesdays do not appear to have been dates it was published.  (The Gazette itself would not be at seven days until the early 1900s when it finally started publishing a Monday edition.)

elex-ag-1892The 1892 election day Gazette intersperses news stories with advertisements.  One headline states poetically:  “Ballots: Like flakes of snow they will gently fall throughout the Union today.”  Another headline stated “Confident.  Democrats everywhere feel assured of Grover Cleveland’s election today.”  Indeed, Cleveland returned to the White House in 1892 after four years of Benjamin Harrison.

elex-ag-04By 1904, most front page advertising at the Gazette had been banished from the front page, although an small box ad for Blass Department Store is at the top.  Only three of the seven columns on the front page have above-the-fold headlines devoted to election stories, and two of those are about the State of New York.  This reflects new editor J. N. Heiskell’s desire to have the Gazette be national in scope. While early Gazettes often relied on national news to fill space, by the post Reconstruction era, the focus was largely on local news.   The lone local headline was “Arkansas will go Democratic” which was certainly a foregone conclusion at the time.  While Arkansas did go Democratic, Theodore Roosevelt kept the presidency in the hands of the GOP.  Interestingly another headline was about efforts to get Prohibition adopted in the state.  It would become an election issue for years to come.

elex-ag-32By 1932, both the Gazette and Democrat published Election Day editions.  The Gazette’s stories included predictions that FDR would win and a record number of ballots would be cast.  There were also separate stories which highlighted the final day of campaigning for both FDR and Hoover.  One of Mr. Heiskell’s above-the-fold editorials encouraged voting No on a variety of measures which dealt with public school financing, sales tax reduction, bond issuance, and reorganization of county election commissions and state government.

elex-ad-32The afternoon Democrat featured stories on Hoover and FDR in the last hours of the campaigns. Like the Gazette it anticipated a record turnout and showed that Pulaski County was experiencing heavy turnout.  The headline trumpeted that FDR had a lead as early results were starting to trickle in.  The Democrat also offered succinct analysis of key battleground states.  In the end, FDR did carry 42 of the 48 states in an election that saw a record of 38,582, 531 people casting votes for one of the two top candidates.

elex-ag-60The 1960 election ended up being one of the closest in popular vote in US history, with only 112,827 votes separating JFK from Nixon.  The Gazette headline was “Kennedy, Nixon take fight down to wire; State interest high.”  The front page also featured stories about Kennedy’s and Nixon’s last full day on the campaign trail.  A box on the front page reminded readers that liquor stores and beer sales could not take place during polling hours. Only persons who had paid their 1960 poll tax were eligible to vote–with an exception made for those who turned 21 after the poll tax deadline and through election day.  The last reminder was that the names of the parties, but not the candidates themselves, would appear on the ballot in the presidential race.

elex-ad-60The afternoon Democrat ran a large photo of Jackie and JFK after they had voted and a slightly smaller one of the Nixon family voting.  Two stories discussed the record turnout that appeared to be taking place — one was on a national scale, and the other was focused on Arkansas.  There was also a story on last minute campaigning.  In the end, over 68,000,000 votes were cast which was a record at the time.

elex-ag-88The most recent presidential election to take place on November 8 was in 1988.  It featured Vice President George H. W. Bush against Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis.  The Gazette (covering its final presidential election — though no one knew it at the time) featured a story on Bush and Dukakis in the final day of campaigning.  It also featured a guide to watching the returns and discussed how the networks made their decisions about calling states.  There was also a box highlighting key battleground states which included Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, New York, Illinois and Texas.  Interestingly, two of those were the home states of the candidates.

elex-ad-88By 1988, the Democrat had been a morning paper for several years going head to head with the Gazette.  It carried its own photos of Bush and Dukakis on the final full day of campaigning.  An inside story was highlighted on the cover which featured a Monday rally in Little Rock with Texas Senator Lloyd Bentsen (Dukakis’ running mate).  The 1988 campaign was long, by the standards of the time, but would be considered abbreviated today.  The 1988 election would mark the third consecutive presidential election that the GOP candidate carried Arkansas.