Little Rock Culture Vulture

Cultural events, places and people in the Little Rock area


Little Rock Look Back: Birth of Joseph Taylor Robinson

Future Senator Joseph Taylor Robinson was born in Lonoke in August 26, 1872.  In 1894 Robinson was elected to the Arkansas General Assembly for one term.  From 1903 until 1913, he served in the US House of Representatives as a Congressman from Arkansas’ then-Sixth District.

He chose not to seek another term in Congress and ran for Governor in 1912.  On January 3, 1913, sitting US Senator Jeff Davis died in office.  Robinson was sworn in as Governor on January 16, 1913. Twelve days later he was chosen by the Arkansas General Assembly to become the next US Senator. He became the final US Senator to be selected by a legislator instead of popular vote.  At the time, Senate terms started in March, so Robinson served as governor until March 8, 1913.

He rose through the ranks of the Senate and eventually became the first person to hold the title of Senate Majority Leader.  In 1928, he was the Vice Presidential nominee for the Democratic Party.  Four years later, he rode with Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt to the inauguration ceremonies before FDR took the oath.  He would be President Roosevelt’s go-to man on legislative issues.

Senator Robinson died in Washington D.C. on July 14, 1937.  His wife was in Little Rock making preparations for a trip the couple was to take. Following his demise, Mrs. Robinson went to Washington to accompany her husband’s body back to Arkansas.

It was not until December 1937, that Senator Robinson’s name became attached to the municipal auditorium which Little Rock voters had approved in January 1937.  Mrs. Robinson participated in the December 24, 1937, groundbreaking for the auditorium.

Naming the auditorium after him was not Little Rock’s first attempt at honoring Senator Robinson.  In 1930, portions of Lincoln, Q, and Cantrell streets were renamed Robinson Drive in his honor. This was part of an effort to give Highway 10 (which had four different names as it wended through the City) a single name in Little Rock.  A few months later the Senator requested that the original names be returned.  Cantrell had been named in honor of a developer who was continuing to work in the area surrounding that street.  The Senator felt it should be named after Mr. Cantrell.  As part of that, the name Cantrell was extended to most of Highway 10 within the Little Rock city limits.

In 1935, on Senator Robinson’s ante-penultimate birthday, the Little Rock City Council coincidentally approved the plans for a municipal auditorium which would then be submitted to the Public Works Administration.  It was this project which would become Robinson Auditorium.

 

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Little Rock Look Back: Death of Joseph Taylor Robinson

Eighty years ago today, on July 14, 1937, U.S. Senator Joseph Taylor Robinson died in his apartment in Washington D.C.

The Senator’s wife, Ewilda, was in Little Rock making preparations for a trip the couple was to take. (She was informed of her husband’s death when her sister-in-law called to express condolences. No one had yet notified her in Little Rock.) Following his demise, Mrs. Robinson went to Washington to accompany her husband’s body back to Arkansas.

As the Senate Majority Leader, Senator Robinson was usually President Franklin Roosevelt’s point person to shepherd legislation on Capitol Hill.  The Democrat’s 1928 Vice Presidential nominee, Senator Robinson was particularly close to FDR. He had successfully steered numerous pieces of New Deal legislation through Congress.  However, at the time of his death, the Senator was facing an uphill climb trying to build consensus on the President’s unpopular Court Packing scheme.

The Senator was honored with a memorial service in the Senate chambers on Friday, July 17.  President Roosevelt and the cabinet joined members of the senate on the floor in what was described as a state funeral without pomp.  Mrs. Robinson sat with her brothers and two nephews as well as Bernard Baruch and Arkansas Power & Light’s Harvey Couch, who were Senator Robinson’s closest friends.  Eleanor Roosevelt was one of the many crowded in the senate galleries observing the service.  Following the service his body remained in the chambers until it was transferred to a train to make the journey to Little Rock.

The funeral train bore his body, his family, 50 senators and over twenty congressmen. It reached Little Rock around 8am on Sunday the 19th.  From there, Senator Robinson’s body was taken to his house on Broadway Street until noon.  It subsequently lay in state at the Arkansas State Capitol until being escorted by military to First Methodist Church.

1,500 people packed the church a half hour before the service began. The sun shone through the windows onto the flag-draped coffin as Rev. H. Bascom Watts led the service. Among the pallbearers was former Vice President Charles G. Dawes. Governor Carl Bailey of Arkansas was joined by Governors Richard Leche of Louisiana and E.W. Marland of Oklahoma.

As the funeral procession reached Roselawn Cemetery, thunder echoed. The skies which had alternated between sun and rain that day, returned to rain. A deluge greeted the end of the service and sent visitors hurrying for shelter at the end.

Five months after her husband’s death, Mrs. Robinson participated in the groundbreaking of the Joseph Taylor Robinson Memorial Auditorium.  The groundbreaking ceremony was the first time it was announced that building would be named in his memory.   On a plaque inside that building today, a quote from President Roosevelt stands as a further testament of the importance of Senator Robinson to the US.  Taken from President Roosevelt’s remarks upon learning of the Senator’s death, the plaque reads, in part, “A pillar of strength is gone.”

Seventy-eight and a half years later, the church was the site of the funeral of longtime US Senator Dale Bumpers in January 2016.


RobinsoNovember: Ewilda Miller Robinson

mrs-jtr-in-1938In a hallway at Robinson Center, are portraits of Senator Robinson and his wife:  Ewilda “Billie” Miller Robinson.  It is fitting that she be recognized at the building in addition to her husband.

Mrs. Robinson first was connected to Robinson Center when she participated in the groundbreaking on December 24, 1937. That ceremony was the first mention that the building would be named in memory of her husband.  On February 16, 1940, she cut the ribbon to officially open the new building.  At neither ceremony did she make remarks.

From the time they were married in December 1896 until his death in July 1937, Mrs. Robinson was devoted to her husband. She rarely spent time away from him.  She traveled the world with the Senator.  Given his leadership positions within the Senate and the Democratic Party, she spent time with numerous national and world figures.  When he died in Washington DC, she was actually back in Little Rock to make preparations for them to take an extended trip.  It was said she was inconsolable upon learning of her husband’s death.

After the Senator died, Mrs. Robinson was appointed postmistress of Little Rock and served in that capacity for 15 years.  For someone who was not sure she could survive a day without her husband, she lived another 21 years after his death.  She died in August 1958 and was buried next to him in Roselawn Cemetery.


RobinsoNovember: J. N. Heiskell

At the age of 87, J. N. Heiskell in 1960.

John Netherland (J. N.) Heiskell served as editor of the Arkansas Gazette for more than seventy years.  He was usually called “Mr. Heiskell” by all, but a very few confidantes felt confident to call him “Ned.”

Mr. Heiskell is the person most responsible for Robinson Center Music Hall being located at the corner of Markham and Broadway.  As Chair of the Planning Commission and editor of the Arkansas Gazette he had twin bully pulpits to promote this location when those on the City Council (who actually had the final say) were looking at other locations.  He felt the location would help create a cluster of public buildings with its proximity to the county courthouse and to City Hall.  Mr. Heiskell finally succeeded in winning over the mayor and aldermen to his viewpoint.

He was born on November 2, 1872, in Rogersville, Tennessee, to Carrick White Heiskell and Eliza Ayre Netherland Heiskell. He entered the University of Tennessee at Knoxville before his eighteenth birthday and graduated in three years at the head of his class on June 7, 1893.

His early journalism career included jobs with newspapers in Knoxville and Memphis and with the Associated Press in Chicago and Louisville. On June 17, 1902, Heiskell’s family bought controlling interest in the Arkansas Gazette. Heiskell became the editor, and his brother, Fred, became managing editor.

Governor George Donaghey appointed Heiskell to succeed Jeff Davis in the United States Senate after Davis’s death in office. Heiskell served from January 6, 1913, until January 29, 1913, when a successor was chosen by the Arkansas General Assembly.  His tenure is the shortest in the U. S. Senate history.  His first speech on the Senate floor was his farewell.  He was also only the second US Senator to live to be 100.

On June 28, 1910, Heiskell married Wilhelmina Mann, daughter of the nationally prominent architect, George R. Mann. The couple had four children: Elizabeth, Louise, John N. Jr., and Carrick.

In 1907, he joined a successful effort to build the city’s first public library. He served on the library board from that year until his death and was issued the first library card.  He also served on the City’s Planning Commission for decades.  In 1912, he was instrumental in bringing John Nolen to Little Rock to devise a park plan.

In the paper and in his own personal opinions, he crusaded on a variety of progressive causes.  Perhaps the most famous was the Gazette’s stance in the 1957 Central High desegregation crisis.  It was for this effort that the paper received two Pulitzer Prizes.

Although Heiskell stopped going to the office at age ninety-nine, he continued to take an active interest in the newspaper. He began by having a copy of the newspaper delivered to his home by messenger as soon as it came off the press each night. Eventually, he switched to having his secretary call him daily at his home and read the entire newspaper to him. He operated on the premise that “anyone who runs a newspaper needs to know what’s in it, even to the classified ads.”

A few weeks after turning 100, Heiskell died of congestive heart failure brought on by arteriosclerosis on December 28, 1972. He is buried in Little Rock’s Mount Holly Cemetery.  Interestingly, he is buried in the same cemetery as two of his most notable adversaries: Governor Jeff Davis, and segregationist Congressman Dale Alford.

Mr. Heiskell donated his vast papers to UALR. They are part of the Arkansas Studies Institute collection. These papers give insight into not only his career as a journalist, but also his political and civic affairs.  Thankfully he saved much of his paperwork. Without it, much insight into Little Rock in the 20th Century would be lost.

 


RobinsoNovember: Senator Joseph Taylor Robinson

150px-joseph_t-_robinson_croppedThis month, Robinson Center Music Hall will reopen after a two year renovation/restoration/remodeling/reconstruction.  To commemorate that, each day in November, the Culture Vulture will look at a person or event connected to Robinson Center Music Hall.

Up first, the eponym for the building.

Senator Joseph Taylor Robinson was born in Lonoke in 1872.  In 1894 Robinson was elected to the Arkansas General Assembly for one term.  From 1903 until 1913, he served in the US House of Representatives as a Congressman from Arkansas’ then-Sixth District.

He chose not to seek another term in Congress and ran for Governor in 1912.  On January 3, 1913, sitting US Senator Jeff Davis died in office.  Robinson was sworn in as Governor on January 16, 1913. Twelve days later he was chosen by the Arkansas General Assembly to become the next US Senator. He became the final US Senator to be selected by a legislator instead of popular vote.  At the time, Senate terms started in March, so Robinson served as governor until March 8, 1913.

He rose through the ranks of the Senate and eventually became the first person to hold the title of Senate Majority Leader.  In 1928, he was the Vice Presidential nominee for the Democratic Party.  Four years later, he rode with Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt to the inauguration ceremonies before FDR took the oath.  He would be President Roosevelt’s go-to man on legislative issues.

 

 

Senator Robinson died in Washington D.C. on July 14, 1937.  His wife was in Little Rock making preparations for a trip the couple was to take. Following his demise, Mrs. Robinson went to Washington to accompany her husband’s body back to Arkansas.

The Senator was honored with a memorial service in the Senate chambers on Friday, July 17.  President Roosevelt and the cabinet joined members of the senate on the floor in what was described as a state funeral without pomp.  Mrs. Robinson sat with her brothers and two nephews as well as Bernard Baruch and Arkansas Power & Light’s Harvey Couch, who were Senator Robinson’s closest friends.  Eleanor Roosevelt was one of the many crowded in the senate galleries observing the service.  Following the service his body remained in the chambers until it was transferred to a train to make the journey to Little Rock.

The funeral train bore his body, his family, 50 senators and over twenty congressmen. It reached Little Rock around 8am on Sunday the 19th.  From there, Senator Robinson’s body was taken to his house on Broadway Street until noon.  It subsequently lay in state at the Arkansas State Capitol until being escorted by military to First Methodist Church.

As the funeral procession reached Roselawn Cemetery, thunder echoed. The skies which had alternated between sun and rain that day, returned to rain. A deluge greeted the end of the service and sent visitors hurrying for shelter at the end.

It was not until December 1937, that Senator Robinson’s name became attached to the municipal auditorium which Little Rock voters had approved in January 1937.


Senator David Pryor in conversation with Skip Rutherford at today’s Legacies & Lunch

CALS PryorLegacies & Lunch: Senator David Pryor
Senator David Pryor, founding dean of the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service, will be interviewed by Skip Rutherford, current dean of the Clinton School. Topics will include Pryor’s interest in history including his founding of the Pryor Center at the University of Arkansas, his life in politics, and his work at the Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics at Harvard and at the Clinton School.  Senator Pryor will also discuss his late colleague Senator Dale Bumpers.

The conversation will take place today, January 6, at 12 noon at the CALS Ron Robinson Theater.

Pryor is the only person in Arkansas political history to have served in the Arkansas State Legislature, the United States House of Representatives, as governor of Arkansas, and in the U.S. Senate.
As a student at the University of Arkansas, Rutherford supported Pryor in his 1972 U.S. Senate campaign against Senator John McClellan. When Pryor was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1978, Rutherford joined his staff and served there for almost six years. When Pryor stepped down as dean of the Clinton School in 2006, Rutherford succeeded him.
Legacies & Lunch is free, open to the public, and sponsored in part by the Arkansas Humanities Council. Bring a sack lunch; drinks and dessert are provided.
They are expecting a large turnout for Legacies & Lunch . Parking at the CALS Main Library campus, where the Ron Robinson Theater is located, is very limited. Please plan to arrive early to allow ample time for parking and walking to the theater. Attendees may park for $2/hour per vehicle at the River Market Parking Deck, 500 East 2nd Street, which is operated by the City of Little Rock. This is the closest paid parking option. Attendees may also park for free at the Clinton School of Public Service and walk to the theater (approx. 0.5 mile, 10-15 min. walking distance).


Little Rock Look Back: Founding Fathers of Little Rock

Fathers DayThere are several men who can be considered founding fathers of Little Rock: William Lewis, the first settler, who stayed for a few months in 1814; Roswell Beebe, who acquired most of the land and laid out streets as well as providing land for public buildings and a cemetery; Amos Wheeler, who was the first postmaster and later a land agent; Jesse Brown, who founded the first school and later served as mayor; and William Woodruff, the founder of the Arkansas Gazette.

There are three other men who were not only founding fathers, but also actual fathers to other leaders. They are: Dr. Matthew Cunningham, Major Nicholas Peay and Chester Ashley.

Dr. Cunningham was one of the first residents of Little Rock. He arrived in 1821 and was shortly joined by his family.  Dr. Cunningham would be Little Rock’s first physician. His son Chester was the first child born in Little Rock.  Dr. Cunningham later served as Little Rock’s first mayor from January 1832 to January 1833.  His stepson, Charles P. Bertrand, later served as Mayor of Little Rock from January 1855 to January 1857.  This is the closest Little Rock has ever had to a father and son both serving as Mayor.

Major Nicholas Peay arrived in Little Rock in 1825.  He quickly became engaged in civic affairs and served as a trustee of Little Rock (a precursor to a city council).  In the 1830s, Major Peay served on the Little Rock City Council. In that capacity, he also served as Acting Mayor of Little Rock.  His son, Gordon Neill Peay, would serve as Mayor of Little Rock from 1859 to 1861.  A grandson son, Ashley Peay, was a Little Rock alderman in the 1920s. A great-great-grandson, Joseph B. Hurst, served on the Little Rock City Board from 1967 to 1970.

Chester Ashley never served on the Little Rock council or as mayor.  He was, however, an early leader of Little Rock.  He actually arrived in 1820 and brought his new wife here in late 1821 (a few months after Mrs. Cunningham arrived).  One of Little Rock’s first attorneys, he was instrumental in the settlement of a competing land ownership disputes. In 1844, he was appointed to be one of Arkansas’ U.S. senators. He served in the Senate until his 1848 death.  His son William E. Ashley, served as Little Rock’s mayor from January 1857 to January 1859 and again from January 1861 until September 1863.

With Bertrand, Ashley, Peay and Ashley in the office of Mayor, from January 1855 until September 1863, Little Rock was governed by second generation leaders.

Descendants of the Cunningham and Peay families still reside in Little Rock today.