Reasons to Love Arkansas: A Visual History

Finding even more reasons to love Arkansas in a curated journey through the state’s most iconic images

The fact that this is our fifth installment of this feature is proof positive that there’s just so, so much to love about this place. And while we’ve previously tended to focus on the present, it’s just as important to remember how we got to today. In that vein, we’re delving deep into Arkansas’ past this year, telling our state’s history through the images that have captured its biggest moments—the good, the bad and the ugly—with the help of the historians, photographers, authors and archivists who know them best.


BEHIND THE LENS | 


IN THE SHADOWS | 

“We teach this in photography: dark background, lighter foreground,” filmmaker and journalism professor Larry Foley says. “Here, it’s the opposite. And though I can’t say for certain, I don’t think Larry Obsitnik ever did anything unintentionally.” Which begs the question: Did the Arkansas Gazette photographer (the paper’s first full-time photographer, it should be noted, who became known as “Chief”) know precisely when the 101st Airborne Division, sent by President Eisenhower to enforce integration at Little Rock Central High, would roll over the Broadway Bridge on the night of Sept. 24, 1957? Did he have time to think through his composition, weighing angles in the darkness as the convoy thundered past? “I don’t know what caption ran with it, but who cares?” Foley says. “The photo pretty well speaks for itself.”  | Photo by Larry Obsitnik for the Arkansas Gazette


HAVING A BALL |

Yankees Babe Ruth (left) and Al DeVormer take a break from pre-pre-season workouts in Hot Springs in 1922. It’s been said that The Bambino found the town’s casinos and racetrack difficult to resist—so much so that his managers eventually forbade him from coming down to Arkansas. | Photo courtesy of Bruce Menard (@Bsmile)


THINGS WILL BE GREAT WHEN YOU’RE … |

 Look west down Capitol Avenue today, and you’ll see a very different picture. But back in 1958, this area of downtown Little Rock was a bustling commercial hub. | Photo by Thomas J. O’Halloran, courtesy of the Library of Congress


VICTORY!

| Over 3,000 Razorback fans, including President Clinton, made the trip to Charlotte, North Carolina, to witness their team claim its first national championship in the 1994 NCAA Tournament. The Hogs beat Duke 76 to 72. | Photo by Staton Briedenthal for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

GONE FISHIN’ |

Music legends Johnny Cash and Johnny Horton retreat from the spotlight to Kingsland, where Cash was born, for a little R&R at a local fishing hole. Horton would die in a car accident while on tour the following year. | Photo by Don Hunstein, courtesy of © Sony Music Entertainment

 

 


 

 

BARNSTORMER |

Folk singer Jimmy Driftwood (of “The Battle of New Orleans” fame) spent his life championing and preserving the music and heritage of his native Ozark Mountains even after rising to folk-music stardom in the late 1950s. With its performance space and museum, his eponymous barn in Mountain View continues that preservation and celebration to this day. | Photo by Rick McFarland for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette


 

 

THINKING OUTSIDE THE BIG BOX |

“It’s a story about entrepreneurship, and risk, and hard work, and knowing where you want to go and being willing to do what it takes to get there.” —Sam Walton. | Photo courtesy of Walmart Stores, Inc.

 

 


 

ON THE LINE | 

Now almost 100 years old, Taborian Hall is the last remaining building from Little Rock’s Ninth Street “Line” of black-owned businesses and social clubs. During World War II, the hall was purchased by the United Service Organizations to be used as a club for black soldiers stationed at Camp Robinson and the Stuttgart Army Airfield. Patrons, like the ones seen here, were often treated to performances by legends like Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole and Louis Armstrong in the hall’s third floor Dreamland Ballroom. | Photo courtesy of the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center, 2011.01.004


 

 

A NEW BEGINNING | 

“I was there that night—not close, but I was there,” says Larry Foley. “It didn’t matter if you supported [Bill Clinton] that night—if you were Arkansan, you understood that this was a big moment. As a state, we’ve always had a bit of an inferiority complex, and now here was one of us, accepting the nation’s highest office on the steps of the first Arkansas Capitol [at the Old State House].The air was electric.” | Photo courtesy of the Old State House Museum

 


THE EARLY DAYS |

“I was earning a degree in journalism, but I knew I was going to be a photographer. I discovered that someone named Andrew Kilgore (see page 67) was teaching a photo course in the art department. I signed up in Fall of 1974. The rest of the class were mainly art students and I was a bit full of myself, being a gonzo journalist and not a poetic visionary. I didn’t understand much of what Andrew was teaching me, and though we liked each other, my approach wasn’t a good match for an art class.

“We were assigned to work on a semester-long project, and I decided to document the Fayetteville Farmers’ Market. I went down there each weekend with a 35mm or my old Yashica 2¼ twin lens, mostly with the twin lens. Not many of the farmers ‘got’ what I was doing, but they were polite and got used to me. I took the portfolio out to the market after I’d turned it in to Andrew and laid it out on the ground so everyone could see it.

“By semester’s end, as I remember it, Andrew and I had become friends, and have remained so, and both learned to appreciate the other’s approach. I know now that I missed a real opportunity to learn from a true master and an Arkansas treasure. Youth being wasted on the young, as they say.” —Art Meripol, as told to Katie Bridges

Photo courtesy of the photographer, Art Meripol


GREAT CATCH | 

Sometimes a still image is just more powerful than a moving image, filmmaker Larry Foley says—and this shot, to him, proves his point. He knows, because he tracked down the broadcast footage while working at KATV, and it didn’t come close to capturing the moment: The very second in an era-defining game—a meeting between the undefeated 1954 Razorbacks and number 5 Ole Miss, and the first time War Memorial had ever sold out—where a pass caught by Preston Carpenter resulted in a 66-yard touchdown that led the Hogs to a 6-0 victory (and that, one might argue, ushered in a new age of Razorback fandom). “In the photo, we see Preston’s eyes cast over his shoulder, we feel what he’s feeling,” Foley says. “I met the photographer once, and he said something to the effect [of] he was just in the right place at the right time.”

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette file photo


LADIES FIRST

First Ladies Rosalynn Carter, Hillary Clinton, Laura Bush and Barbara Bush brave the elements for the dedication of the William J. Clinton Presidential Center, held on a very rainy Nov. 18, 2004. | Photo by David Scull, courtesy of the Clinton Foundation.

NATURALLY… |

When you’ve spent more than 30 years as the chief photographer for the Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism, it’s understandably difficult to narrow down your 1-million-photo-strong portfolio to a single photo that represents why the Natural State is deserving of its moniker. But we think A.C. Haralson’s photo of Lake Enterprise near Wilmott, which shows sunset streaming through a copse of Spanish-moss-draped cypress trees, does a pretty darn fine job. | Photo courtesy of the photographer, A.C. Haralson.

 

 

 


ON HALLOWED GROUND |

“I’m 75 years old, and I was here when I was 5 and 6, so it’s just a very, very small portion of that 75 years—but it has been the most defining experience of my life. And it’s my incarceration here and in the other internment camp that has made me such an active participant in our democracy. And it is so gratifying to come back here and see all of you here who have worked to make this a hallowed ground for America—and certainly for me.” —George Takei at the 2013 dedication of the WWII Japanese-American Internment Museum at Rohwer. 

Photo courtesy of Arkansas State University


FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL |

Though the Hoxie school integration, which took place two years before that of Little Rock Central High, certainly wasn’t without tension, it was peaceful. The 21 black students who came to enroll on the first day of class initially stood apart from the white children, trying to sort out where they belonged in this new environment, while their white classmates regarded them with curiosity. But as the day wore on, something changed. A photo essay from Life magazine captured the shift as the children began to laugh and play together, unencumbered by anxieties of the adults—parents, teachers, townsfolk—seeing one another simply as the kids they were. The story drew praise for the school district from civil rights supporters across the nation, but unfortunately attracted segregationists to the small town as well. | Photo courtesy of the Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Gift of Howard Greenberg Gallery, © Gordon Tenney


 

 

RISING UP |

Though an Arkansas law proposing women’s suffrage had been introduced as early as 1868, it wasn’t until 1917 that legislation was passed allowing women to vote in Arkansas primaries. Gov. Charles Brough, shown here at a rally on the steps of the Arkansas State Capitol celebrating the bill’s passage, supported the measure fully. | Photo courtesy of the Arkansas Women’s History Collection, Arkansas State Archives

 


 

 

 

ON BROADWAY |

The first traffic to cross the Broadway Bridge from Argenta into downtown Little Rock did so on Christmas Day, 1922, when the structure was still under construction. It would be another three months before it would open to the public—and another 93 years before it was demolished to make way for a new span. | Photo courtesy of the Arkansas State Archives

 

 

 


 

 

 

BREAKING BARRIERS | 

After fighting at the Battle of the Bulge and earning an undergraduate degree from Arkansas Agricultural, Mechanical and Normal College (now known as the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff), Ashdown native Silas Hunt set another goal for himself: law school. On Feb. 3, 1948, accompanied by AM&N photographer Geleve Grice and an attorney, Hunt enrolled for admission at the University of Arkansas Law School. According to notes from an Old State House Museum exhibition on Grice’s work, the photographer recalled that they “were scared to death [and] had no idea what [they] were getting into.” Hunt’s eventual acceptance made him the first black student admitted to a white Southern university post-Reconstruction. A year into his studies, however, he succumbed to tuberculosis, never completing his degree. | Photo courtesy of the Geleve Grice Collection, University of Arkansas Special Collections

 

 


 

COMING TOGETHER |

In the wake of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller did something that no other Southern governor dared to do. On the steps of the Arkansas State Capitol building on April 7, 1978, Rockefeller joined hands with the black leadership of the state for a prayer service. “He was alone in his peer group,” says Capitol historian David Ware, “and what he did got him castigated by many in the state—and many in his own party—who thought he should have no contact with these black leaders.” Ware goes on to say that while Rockefeller’s actions didn’t fix race relations in Arkansas overnight, his presence helped mend the wound. | Photo courtesy of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s Center for Arkansas History and Culture


MADAME SENATOR, PRESIDING |

By 1943, when this photo was taken, Hattie Caraway was no longer considered a “curiosity” by her peers in the U.S. Senate, says Nancy Hendricks, author of Senator Hattie Caraway: An Arkansas Legacy. After first joining the Senate to fill the vacancy left by her late husband, Hattie became the first woman elected to a seat in 1932 (and the first woman to be re-elected in 1938). But here, 11 years later, looking dignified and confident late in her second term, Caraway is photographed to commemorate another milestone: becoming the first woman to formally raise the gavel as the Senate’s presiding officer, although she’d briefly served the role once before. “There was no official recognition of the 1932 occasion, possibly because at that time, she was not expected to remain in office for very long,” Dr. Hendricks says. “However, Caraway understood the historical significance of the event. In a journal entry dated May 9, 1932, she wrote: Made history. Presided over the Senate … Nothing came up but oh, the autographs I signed.” | Photo by Harris & Ewing, courtesy of the Library of Congress

FLOAT ON |

The scratchy static of a needle finding its way across a record’s grooves gives way to tinny folk music. On screen, the picture morphs from black to shaky panoramas of towering blufflines, couples in canoes, verdant valleys. Soon, the music softens and a man’s voice rises above: “This is the Buffalo National River …” That voice belonged to Bentonville physician Dr. Neil Compton, as did the hand that held the video camera, that filmed and edited a series of 13 videos as part of his campaign to save his beloved Buffalo River from “drowning in her own waters,” as he was known to say. It was a campaign that the founder of the Ozark Society waged persistently and ultimately won, resulting in the creation of the country’s first “National River” in 1972. “When we visit the Buffalo, we need to think of him,” says Larry Foley, who wrote and produced a documentary on the river in 2009. “Without him, we wouldn’t have the river as we know it. Period.” | Photo courtesy of the Neil Compton Collection, University of Arkansas Special Collections


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