Little Rock Look Back: How LR reacted to Assassination of Dr. King

On April 4, 1968,  when Dr. King was assassinated, 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.

Women Making History – Jeannette Edris Rockefeller

Jeannette Edris Rockefeller only lived in Arkansas for about fifteen years. But her impact on the cultural life of Little Rock and all of Arkansas continues to be felt today.

Born and raised in Seattle, as a young mother she met Winthrop Rockefeller while both were in New York.  He moved to Arkansas in 1953; after their 1956 marriage, she joined him. They split their time between Little Rock and Petit Jean.

In 1959, she was asked to become involved in plans for a new art museum in Little Rock.  She became a tireless advocate and fundraiser for the new Arkansas Arts Center.   In 1960, she assumed the role of president of the Arkansas Arts Center Board of Trustees, a position she held until 1968.  During that time period she oversaw the planning, construction and opening of the building.  She also invited Townsend Wolfe, who she had met when he taught some classes at the Arts Center, to apply to become the museum’s first executive director.

From 1967 to 1971, she was First Lady of Arkansas.  In that capacity, she supervised renovation of the Governor’s Mansion and started the tradition of displaying art on the walls.

Shortly after her 1971 divorce from Rockefeller, she relocated to California.  She continued to be a supporter of the Arts Center.  One of the galleries in the Arts Center is named in her honor.  In addition, one of the sculptures on the lawn of the Arts Center, Standing Red, was dedicated in 1970 in recognition of her service on the Arts Center Board.

Rockefeller & Pryor: The New Generation is focus of Clinton School program this evening

The next generation of two longtime Arkansas political families will be the focus of a Clinton School program this evening (March 29).

The program, starting at 6pm, will feature a conversation with Will Rockefeller and Adams Pryor moderated by Clinton School Dean Skip Rutherford.  It will be at Sturgis Hall.

Will Rockefeller works for Winrock Group Inc. in Little Rock and served on the staff of United States Senator John Boozman from 2011-2016.  He earned his B.A. in History from Rhodes College and an MBA from the University of Arkansas. He is currently pursuing a Master’s in Real Estate Development from Georgetown University. He is the son of the late Arkansas Lt. Gov Win Rockefeller and the grandson of the late Arkansas Governor Winthrop Rockefeller.

Adams Pryor graduated from the University of Arkansas and is currently a third-year law student at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. Following his law school graduation, he hopes to work for an international development NGO. He is the son of Arkansas Senator Mark Pryor and the grandson of Arkansas Governor and Senator David Pryor.

All Clinton School Speaker Series events are free and open to the public. Reserve your seats by emailing publicprograms@clintonschool.uasys.edu or by calling (501) 683-5239.

#5WomenArtists – Betty Dortch Russell McMath

Through their social media campaign #5WomenArtists, the National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA) asks, “Can you name five women artists?

In response to that, this month five artists with Little Rock connections will be highlighted throughout March.  Up next is Betty Dortch Russell McMathThe Arkansas Governor’s Arts Awards were presented today.  In 2004, she was a recipient of one of the awards.

Born in 1920, she grew up just outside of Little Rock near Scott. After graduating from Little Rock Central High School, she attended Hendrix College. Beginning in the late 1930s, she studied art with such well-known artsits as Adrian Brewer, Louis Freund and Elsie Freud.

Her first commission was a portrait. While she also has painted numerous landscapes and scenes from Arkansas life, it is probably for her portraits she is best known. Among those she has painted are five Arkansas governors: Daniel Webster Jones, Sid McMath, Orval Faubus, Winthrop Rockefeller, and acting governor Bob Riley. Her painting of Rockefeller is the only official portrait of an Arkansas governor (to date) to have an outdoor setting. She has also painted many notable Arkansas women (including a 1986 exhibit for the Arkansas sesquicentennial).

In the 1960s, she and Marge Holman were commissioned to paint a mural on the flood wall in North Little Rock. Around the same time, she repeatedly took top honors at the Arkansas Festival of the Arts (which had been founded by Adolphine Fletcher Terry).

A longtime teacher at the Arkansas Arts Center, she was also active in numerous artistic and civic organizations.

For over 40 years, she was married to Henry Wellington “Rusty” Russell, who she met when he was stationed in Little Rock during World War II.  Several years after his death, she and Sid McMath married and were married until his death.

Women Making History: Vada Webb Sheid

Image result for vada sheidVada Webb Sheid was the first woman to be elected to both the Arkansas House and the Arkansas Senate. She was also the first woman in the Arkansas Senate who did not first succeed a husband.

Born in 1916 in Izard County, she grew up there. After graduating in high school in 1934, she attended classes in Little Rock at Draughon School of Business before returning to Izard County.  In 1940, she married Carl Sheid. Over the next few years they lived in Mountain Home, El Dorado, and Little Rock before returning to Mountain Home after World War II.

After an earlier unsuccessful race for Baxter County Treasurer in 1958, Vada Sheid was elected to the position in 1960 and served until 1965. In 1966, she was elected to the Arkansas House of Representatives.  She was one of four women in the House during her first term.

Vada Sheid served in the Arkansas House through 1976. That year, she was elected to the Arkansas State Senate. She served as a State Senator from 1977 to 1985. Defeated in a bid for a third term, she was later appointed to the Arkansas State Police Commission.  In 1993, she was returned to the Arkansas House in a special election and served until January 1995.

During her service in the Arkansas General Assembly, public works and higher education projects were a major focus. She championed the construction of a bridge across Norfolk Lake as well as many other river bridges and highways in North Central Arkansas. She also pushed through the bills to establish the Mountain Home campus of Arkansas State University as well as what is now known as North Arkansas College in Harrison.

Though a staunch Democrat, she worked across the aisle to get projects completed. Her work on the Norfolk Lake bridge required lobbying of both Gov. Rockefeller and President NIxon.

Vada Webb Sheid died in 2008, but her legacy lives on.