Urban Renewal and the Dreamland Ballroom

As in many cities of segregated America, Little Rock Arkansas had a thriving African-American community. The West 9th Street neighborhood on the eastern edge of downtown was filled with black-owned businesses and professional offices. The Dreamland Ballroom headlined acts such as Duke Ellington, Fats Waller, Etta James, Louis Jordan, Big Joe Turner et cetera. Urban renewal came to the neighborhood in the 1950s. It came with a vengeance after the integration of Central High School made news around the world.

Originally termed “slum clearance,” the more genteel label “urban renewal” saw the eviction of black families and their relocation to housing projects further east. The Little Rock Housing Authority (LRHA) had authority to purchase –requiring homeowners to sell at assessed price – and demolish swaths of “blighted” areas. The LRHA director went on record that, “the city of Little Rock through its various agencies including the housing authority systematically worked to continue segregation” through its slum clearance and public housing projects. The city built two new high schools: Horace Mann High in the mostly black eastern part of Little Rock, and Hall High in the white western edge. Construction in the 1960s of Interstates 630 and 430 solidified the de facto boundary between white and black Little Rock.

Fast forward to 1991. Kerry McCoy, founder and owner of Arkansas Flag and Banner, was looking for a new headquarters for her company. The Taborian Hall, built in 1918 by an African-American contractor for the Knights and Daughters of Tabor, had stood derelict on West 9th for decades; it even lacked a roof when McCoy purchased it. In addition to the lodge, the building in its  glory days housed the USO, the Gem Pharmacy, medical and dentist offices and the Dreamland Ballroom. The flag business has thrived and Kerry McCoy has steadily progressed with making the Dreamland a viable operation. (You can schedule your wedding reception there.)

While full-scale gentrification has yet to come to the West 9th district, the neighborhood’s changes and Dreamland’s resuscitation was the subject of a PBS documentary.



My Baby, the Long-Distance Runner (New York City Marathon Preview)

The route of the first New York City Marathon in 1970 was entirely inside Central Park. Of the 127 entrants, 55 finished. The lone woman entrant dropped out because of illness. The 2017 marathon route meanders through all five boroughs. More than 50,000 runners will finish the course.

This year will be special: my daughter, Maureen McGovern, will be running. Moe has finished sixteen previous marathons. This is her first time in the New York City Marathon. She is running to raise money for the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research.

Read her (and partly my) story here.

Nobody knew that geography could be so complicated

“It’s very, very tough because it’s an island,” the president said, asserting that his government received “A+” marks for responding to storms in Texas and Florida. “The difference is this is an island sitting in the middle of an ocean — and it’s a big ocean, a really, really big ocean.”

from The World’s Most Dangerous Beauty Salon

Daniel Murray Meets Jim Crow

The recent antics in Charlottesville, Virginia ostensibly began as a protest of the impending removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee, commander of the Confederate Army, astride his horse. The demonstrators were enraged by this attack on their heritage. The South’s Confederate legacy was so important that it took nearly sixty years, until 1924, for them to get around to erecting this monument in its honor. Like most Civil War memorials, this one was built not during the postwar reconstruction, but during the time of Jim Crow laws, a sort of “in your face” to African-Americans whose few decades of civil rights were ending.

Daniel Murray

Daniel Murray was born in Baltimore in1852. His father was a freed slave; his mother a free black woman. At the time of his birth, Baltimore had the largest free Black population in the country. Baltimore and nearby Washington D.C. were islands of opportunity for free blacks. Careers in government service and Howard University attracted African-American civic leaders and intellectuals. With timing, connections and his ability to network – sound familiar? – with both whites and blacks, Murray built a successful business and government career. By 1899, he was Assistant Librarian, the second-highest position at the Library of Congress, working with Congress doing research for legislation. He was a member of the Washington Board of Trade, the only non-white on the advocacy group of businessmen. Murray’s wife, Anna Evans, was a black socialite who taught at local schools and attended Oberlin College. They owned a three-story brick home in D.C.

Thomas Rice, a white vaudeville performer, became famous in the 1830s for a song and dance he performed in blackface and wearing shabby clothes. He claimed his inspiration was a slave he had seen. He called the routine “Jump, Jim Crow.”

The Supreme Court ruled in 1877 that states could not prohibit segregation on streetcars, railroads, riverboats or other public transportation. That same year, federal troops were pulled out of the southern states. Reconstruction had ended. The Supreme Court promulgated its “separate but equal” doctrine in the landmark Plessy v. Ferguson case. (“Equal” had a different meaning in southern states.) A deluge of “Jim Crow” laws followed, peaking in the 1920s, coincided with the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan and a new need to put up Civil-War monuments. Confederate statuary reached a second peak in the fifties and sixties, a reaction to the escalating civil-rights movement.

After being inaugurated as president in 1913, Woodrow Wilson oversaw the segregation of federal offices, firing or demoting black employees and segregating facilities. Daniel Murray was one of those demoted and salary slashed. He was not allowed to eat in the Library’s public cafeteria. He died in 1925, in a segregated hospital and was buried in a segregated cemetery.

Read “The Original Black Elite” by Elizabeth Dowling Taylor.

Racial Diversity at the Pendleton Round-Up

Ken Kesey, author of the great American novel, collaborated with long-time friend Ken Babbs for, Last Go Round in 1994. The book was appropriately titled; it was his final work of fiction. The story takes place at the 1911 Pendleton Round-Up, the second annual. The characters in the story were real people. Kesey’s father had told him stories about the Round-Up and the disputed results of the bronc-riding contest.

Pendleton citizens had such a good time 1909 with Fourth-of-July horse races, Indian dances, greased-pig contests and fireworks that they decided it should be an event on its own, separate from Independence Day. The first Round-Up took place in 1910 and has been held annually – except 1942-1943, World War II hiatus – every September since. The event brings more than 50,000 people to Pendleton, nearly quadrupling its population. Continue reading Racial Diversity at the Pendleton Round-Up

Kam Wah Chung and John Day

John Day, a fur trapper, signed on with John Jacob Astor’s Pacific Fur Company in 1811 as part of the Overland Expedition to establish a trading center at the mouth of the Columbia River. By the time they reached the Snake River in Idaho, Day was not feeling well. He stayed behind with Ramsay Crooks while the rest of the party pressed onward to Fort Astoria. When spring came, they set out to catch up with the others. Members of the Cayuse Tribe came upon the pair camped at the mouth of the Mah-hah (Mau Mau) River. Rather than killing them outright for their trespassing, the Indians took everything from the interlopers: food, equipment and the clothes they were wearing. Somehow Day and Crooks managed to survive several weeks until another party from the Pacific Fur Company, canoeing down the Columbia, found them and escorted them to Astoria. John Day became a legend. The river became known as the John Day as did the town later founded 150 miles to the south. John Day the person never visited John Day the town.

Continue reading Kam Wah Chung and John Day