Midwest, Day One: Big Time in Little Rock

Our Saturday morning began as a cold, rainy day, but we did not let that put a damper on our morning. We ventured into River Market for breakfast to kick start our day. I had the meaty melt omelet from Sweet Soul that quickly satisfied my hunger, Constance had the southwest omelet, and Professor Yawn had grits. Fueled by calories, we made our way to Little Rock Central High School and the nearby Little Rock Central High Museum, where we experienced history and learned more about the civil rights movement.

Little Rock Central High

Little Rock Central High School was once known as “America’s most beautiful high school” because of its blend of art deco and gothic revival architecture.

LRCH_Constance_Alex_WebWe were impressed with the message that the school sent to its students in the architecture itself.  In addition to the beauty of the structure, the front of the building is adorned with four relief statues, each corresponding to a different quality.  The qualities are: Ambition, Personality, Opportunity, and Preparation.

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After admiring the architecture and taking additional photos of us on the steps tread by the Little Rock Nine…

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…and making use of the beautiful colors around us…

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…we made our way to the visitors center where The Little Rock Central High School Museum is located. The museum highlights The Little Rock Nine, who were the nine African-American students chosen to be the first to integrate Little Rock Central High School. The museum had plenty of information on the crisis of 57’ that was shown in different ways.   As with most museums nowadays, it offers interactive experiences, with an entrance showing three screens, each with different information.

LRCH_Entrance_Screens_WebAmidst a discussion of the constitutional background of integration and the equal protection clause, we were reintroduced to the four qualities emphasized by Little Rock Central High: Ambition, Personality, Opportunity, Preparation.

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My favorite section of the museum was a station with a telephone receiver and a small video screen that showed the events that happened during the desegregation of Little Rock Central High School, as told by the Little Rock Nine themselves.

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The videos went into detail of what the first day, September 4th was really like, and how they felt that day and every day after. The first person perspective from the museum gave plenty of insight as to how chaotic and difficult it was to desegregate the high school in 1957. The Little Rock Nine described everything they went through which included: having rocks thrown at them, begin beaten up, the verbal abuse, the threatening phone calls to their homes, and the white people who wanted to be their friends but were too scared.


The Old Mill

After leaving Little Rock Central High, we headed to “The Old Mill,” the last surviving set from Gone With the Wind.

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The Old Mill is known for being the last surviving piece of the 1939 film, Gone With the Wind. The Old Mill at T.R. Memorial Park was truly breathtaking, and definitely a site to see. We were welcomed by the trees that were changing colors due to the season, which made The Old Mill look even more picturesque than expected. The park is decorated with tree-entwined bridges that at first glance look like real trees, but were really constructed out of concrete by Senor Dionico Rodriguez. We were able to climb the tree-entwined bridge that crossed over the water and walk into The Old Mill.

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It’s difficult to describe the beauty of the Old Mill.  In addition to the Mill itself…

Old_Mill_Constance_2_Web…there is the stone cabin with open windows, perfect for photographs…

Old_Mill_Constance_Alex_Web…and the concrete, faux wooden bridge was a perfect prop for photographs, such as this one…

Old_Mill_Constance_Alex_Bridge_Web…or this one…

Old_Mill_Alex_Constance_Bridge_Closer_Web… or this one…

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There are also some interesting some side areas in the park.  We were able, for example, to climb up…

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and into a well.

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Which, as our professor noted, is one of the reasons we sign waivers before going on trips.


Lunch

After taking advantage of the picturesque environment we made our way to Whole Hog Cafe for a delicious lunch.

IMG_0928One of the best things about Whole Hog Cafe is that they have six different types of BBQ sauce on the table.   This allows guests to sample the flavors and then go with their favorite choice.  For our table, # 5, “Sweet, Dark, And Bold Molasses Flavor,” was the favorite.


Arkansas Arts Center

Following lunch, we made our way to a fine jewel in Arkansas culture, the Arkansas Arts Center.

Arkansas_Arts_Center_Constance_WebHome to more than 600 years of art, the Arkansas Arts Center proved compelling from Our America, the Latino exhibit on loan from the Smithsonian, to its permanent collection.

We had the pleasure of being escorted through the Latino exhibit by a museum docent who pointed out the intricacies in the portraits of the exhibit. Our tour began with a viewing of two side-by-side portraits by Scherezade Garcia, named The Dominican York, and Santo Trujillo is Dead.

Garcia_Art…which our tour guide believed were distinguished largely by tone…

Garcia_Art_2

Inspired by the struggle and aspirations of immigrants traveling to the states from their homelands, Garcia’s work mixed a compelling use of sequins, charcoal, ink, and acrylic to portray the hardships and opportunities immigrants encountered on their journeys. Next, we stopped at a painting by Juan Sanchez titled Para Don Pedro.

Sanchez_Art

The collage paid homage to Pedro Albizu Campos, a politician and leader in the Puerto Rican Independence Movement. Although beautiful in its own right, we found the work to be a bit too abstract and overwhelming to enjoy, comparatively, but were interested in the concepts.  Moving on, we viewed two pieces by New Yorker, Elia Alba called Larry Levan (snake) and Larry Levan (three is better than one).

Alba_Art

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Ms. Alba sought to display the incongruity between the third culture of immigrants and Hispanics in the United States with the American culture, seen in the awkward joining of faces to mismatched bodies. For the viewer, the works evoked discomfort due to lack of aesthetic beauty, much like the discomfort felt by those of different cultural backgrounds during the Civil Rights Movement. After viewing a few more works, notably a sculpture by Luis Jimenez,

Jiminez_Art

Man on Fire, who taught notable Huntsville artist Jesus Moroles, and being surprised by a sculpture by Mr. Moroles himself, Georgia Stele

Moroles_Art
We bid adieu to our docent and set off to spend a few quick minutes exploring the permanent collection. Considering anything in Arkansas to be a “jewel” would be hard to those not knowing what the state has to offer. That said, the Arts Center happens to be home to many world-renowned artists, Monet, Renoir, Picasso, and Rembrandt to name a few. We particularly enjoyed Monet’s Effet de soleil couchant, Port-Villez (Effect of the Sun Setting, the Seine at Port-Villez)…

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….full of dark purples and greens to catch the eye, and Picasso’s Aureau ailé contemple par quatre enfants (Winged Bull Gazing on Four Children), depicting children being frightened by an almost dragon-like bull.

Constance_Picasso_Alex_Web

Needing to make it to our next destination on time, we hurried out of the Arkansas Art Center after only spending very little time in their exhibit halls. Impressed by the collection in a state that does not get much cultural street cred, we left intrigued and hopeful to discover more famous artists at our upcoming art destinations.


 

Bill Clinton Presidential Library and Museum

Full from our saucy lunch at Whole Hog Café, we drove back into Little Rock proper to explore, quickly I might add, the Bill Clinton Presidential Library and Museum. The 42nd President of the United States, and 42nd Governor of Arkansas, President Clinton was long-time resident of Little Rock, having grow up here and also served as Attorney General and Governor of the state.  As President, Clinton promised to be a “bridge into the 21st century, and the Clinton Museum reflects that metaphor, standing almost suspended over the ground and toward the Arkansas River.

Armed with a little less than an hour, Alex and I took off up the escalator to explore as much as possible in such a short time. Confronted with columns on each side of both floors and exhibits interspersed between, we learned that the museum was modeled to copy The Long Room at the Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland.

Clinton_Library_Long_Room

We were surprised to also find a Dale Chihuly piece, Crystal Tree of Light, inside. It was one of two that was made for the White House Millennium celebration held on New Years Eve in 1999. After being hung in the White House, one of the pieces was donated to the Clinton Presidential Foundation in 2004 and resides permanently in the library now.

With less time available, we read about Clinton’s accomplishments as president, his work in Foreign Service, including the many State dinners he held, and the First Lady’s work alongside her husband. Inspired by the power President Clinton held, even Alex was caught day dreaming about one day being a cabinet member to influence great change in our country.

Cabinet_Table

We ran out of time in the library to really grasp all that President Clinton’s time in office is known for but were impressed by the vast information made available by the museum and the organized nature of it all. Exhilarated by the change enacted between 1993 and 2001, we made our way back into the rainy weather to, hopefully, tour Little Rock by Segway.


Little Rock Segway Tour

We’ve segwayed quite a few cities: Dallas, Austin, Oklahoma City, New Orleans, and, now, Little Rock, AR.  It’s hard to pick a favorite from among these, but Little Rock ranks high on this list because it’s such a picturesque city.  The views were complemented by our knowledgeable and laid-back tour guide, Henry Barker.

Barker took us to the Clinton Presidential Library, along the Bill Clark wetlands preserve, to Heifer International and, even though we had seen many of these areas, he filled in details we didn’t know.  Heifer, for example, won a Platinum rating from LEED for using mostly recyclable materials and because the materials came from within 500 miles of Little Rock.

Segway_Heifer_WebAnd when segwaying along the Bill Clark wetlands area, we saw an egret.

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The most fun, however, came when we glided along the river market area.  We saw the many sculptures along the riverway…

Segway_Alex_Constance_Stephanie_Web…stopped for a bit to play on Little Rock’s amazing playground, which has a high-speed slide…

Slide_galvan_Webb…a tunnel system, which Alex took to like an enthusiastic groundhog, and a spider-web jungle gym…

Spider_Web_Constance_Alex_Web

Spider_Web_Alex_WebWe also spent some time at the H. U. Lee International Gate and Garden, which honors H. U. Lee, the founder of the American Taekwondo Association.  Strangely, Mr. Lee decided to settle in Little Rock because it reminded him of South Korea.

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We also stopped to let our friends and fellow members of LEAP that we wished they were here with us.  So, Austin, Karla, Kaitlyn, Jazmin, Beatriz, Caitlin, Bella, Brian, Jamaus, and Megan, we wish you were along with us!

Constance_Alex_Greetings_Web


Dinner and Moving On

After a day of touring the city, we had worked up a hunger, and there’s no better place to eat in the River Market area than Sonny Williams.  We began our meal with an appetizer of Elk and Alligator, and followed it with Lamb Chops and Creole Seafood.

And with all that food in us, we decided to take one last walk along the river market area.

Junction_Bridge_Sculpture_Night_WebThe bridges were washed in orange colors, in honor of Halloween.

Junction_Bridge_Night_WebAnd the beautiful view of Little Rock from one of its seven bridges made for a memorable way to end a memorable day.

Little_Rock_Skyline_Web

 

Author: mikeyawn

Mike Yawn teaches at Sam Houston State University. In the past few years, he has taught courses on Politics & Film, Public Policy, the Presidency, Media & Politics, Congress, Statistics, Research & Writing, Field Research, and Public Opinion. He has published academic papers in the Journal of Politics, Political Behavior, Social Security Quarterly, Film & History, American Politics Review, and contributed a chapter to the textbook Politics and Film. He also contributes columns, news analysis, and news stories to news stories, having contributed more than 50 pieces in the past year. Yawn is also active in his local community, serving on the board of directors of the local YMCA and Friends of the Wynne. Previously, he served on the Huntsville's Promise and Stan Musial World Series Boards of Directors. In 2007-2008, Yawn was one of eight scholars across the nation named as a Carnegie Civic Engagement Scholar by the Carnegie Foundation.

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