Santiago Casas: Day 2, JF Spring Trip

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Dawn of the second day and we were back at it again.  I was making a return visit to Little Rock, yet today, as Texans might say, was a whole new rodeo.

After a three-hour drive from Memphis, we arrived in Conway, Arkansas at about 10:00 am.  Conway is the home to the University of Central Arkansas, and they had a lot going on today.  Jesse Jackson was coming in later that day, but we were there to see Susan Eisenhower, granddaughter of President Eisenhower.  She discussed his role in the Civil Rights movement, and it made for an intriguing morning.  For example, she described the mutual affection and admiration that he shared with his valet Sgt. Mahoney, an African American, and the first-ever African-American pallbearer for a President.

Eisenhower was criticized for not speaking out more on racial matters, but Ms. Eisenhower argues that critics are misreading the historical record.  Ike desegregated the military, enforced desegregation in Arkansas, appointed Supreme Court Justices that pushed for Civil Rights, signed the 1957 Civil Rights Act into law, and spoke out for the much stronger 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Apart from Civil Rights, Eisenhower signed the bill initiating NASA, balanced the budget, and averted foreign crisis. A neat little fact about President Eisenhower that was told by Susan was that on his Oval Office desk laid a paper weight with the inscription, “Gentle in manner, strong in deed”.

We then headed to the state’s capital, Little Rock, where we toured the Governor’s mansion. It was my first visit to a Governor’s mansion.  It was a nice and elegant housed filled with lots of history. My favorite part was the majestic chandelier in the middle of the Grand Hall. Interestingly this chandelier was made in our very own state of Texas. The funny part of the story is that Arkansas’ state insect is the honey bee, but the makers in Texas added bumble bee instead. I guess everything is BIGGER in Texas.

Arkansas Governor's Mansion

Soon after, we headed over to the Little Rock Central High School, the site of the 1957 Civil Rights crisis. As I stood on the same steps that they walked on 55 years previously, I felt history come alive.  They had hatred and oppression thrown at them, and that had an impact on me, especially since we had just had our picture taken with Elizabeth Eckford, one of the Little Rock Nine, earlier today at the University of Central Arkansas. The civil rights era was not too long ago, yet it seems so distant to many of us in my generation. But today the present and the past collided and I was there to witness it.

Little Rock Central High

None of us were particularly hungry, so we killed a little time at the Old Mill and the Junction Bridge, two beautiful Arkansas landmarks.  Both locations were well suited to photography and for relaxing and taking in the amazing scenery.

Junior Fellows at the Old Mill

The best way to cap a good day is with a good meal.  Damgoode Pies offered that meal.  I ordered my favorite pizza, the Hawaiian, and it was delicious and filling.  I am actually still stuffed, but I am not complaining, not since our advisors put in a $5 per whine user fee.

The trip is going according to plan, and well beyond my expectations. I can only look forward to tomorrow’s adventure and what awaits us.

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