Archive for the ‘The South’ Category
Two-lane roads criss-cross the fertile Delta farmland in northeast Arkansas. Small towns and cotton gins pepper the landscape. In a blink, you’d miss Piggott, a town of about 2,000 people.
It’s certainly a long way from Havana, Paris, Madrid or Key West.
Ernest Hemingway probably thought this very thing when he arrived here in 1927 on the arm of his second wife, Pauline Pfeiffer, whose family lived in the small town. He was 28.
From 1927 until the couple separated in 1936, Hemingway often visited Piggott with his wife and their two children. The Pfeiffer House still stands outside Piggott’s town square, surrounded by large oaks, green grass and the occasional wildflower. Behind the two-story wood framed home, a converted barn turned studio holds secrets from the Hemingway days. It was in this studio that Hemingway wrote part of “A Farewell to Arms” as well as sections of numerous short stories.
After gathering clues and solving mysteries about Hemingway’s time at the house, two women – Dr. Ruth Hawkins and Claudia Shannon – along with Arkansas State University in Jonesboro have transformed the house into the Hemingway-Pfeiffer Museum and Education Center.
“We wanted the house to be true to the time when Hemingway lived here,” said Shannon, president of Shannon Design Enterprises in Jonesboro and restoration director for the center. “We wanted people to feel like they stepped back into time.” Hawkins is vice presidentof institutional advancement at Arkansas State and project director for the center.
Piggott, too, appears frozen in time, as if Papa Hemingway just caught a train out of here last week. It retains a certain charm that has been lost in other cities with the advent of Wal-Mart and other chain stores.
Piggott doesn’t have chain stores and doesn’t want any within its city limits.
Seals Pharmacy on the town square still serves ice cream sodas and sundaes on its marble counter top. Antique shops dot the streets. The only thing missing is the 1800s courthouse, torn down in the 1970s for a more modern building.
Andy Griffith made the 1957 film A Face in the Crowd in Piggott, and residents still insist Piggott was the basis for television’s Mayberry. The town is now banking on Papa Hemingway, not Wal-Mart, to revitalize its economy and renovate its town square.
“I can safely say that 70 percent of businesses will benefit from the Hemingway connection due to tourism and the kind of tourism it will generate,” said Rodney Rouse, president of Arkansas Bank and a co-chairman of a group aimed at renovating Piggott.
But for love
The love story of the 1910 Hemingway-Pfeiffer farmhouse and its restoration oozes much of the same romance and happenstance that filled Hemingway’s life with Pauline Pfeiffer.
Pauline Pfeiffer Hemingway grew up in St. Louis and moved to Piggott with her family in 1913 when her father, Paul, bought a house in the rural town and left the family pharmaceutical business.
Despising the city, Paul Pfeiffer began acquiring land during the early 1900s in the swampy, timbered-out flatland of northeastern Arkansas and soon accumulated 63,000 acres, which he divided into farms for sharecroppers. He also constructed a cotton gin and created the successful Piggott Land Company in 1929.
When the Depression struck, Piggott families struggled to generate income. Paul Pfeiffer was their savior. He chartered the Piggott State Bank in 1930, becoming its first president and loaning money to whomever needed it. He bought hundreds of quilts from women in the area in order to give them something rather than a handout.
Paul Pfeiffer also hired people to paint the house when another coat of paint wasn’t even needed. During restoration, Shannon said she found 40 layers of paint on the house.
Pauline, the oldest of four children, was a well-educated, devout Catholic. She graduated from the University of Missouri School of Journalism in 1918 and traveled to New York, where she wrote for various magazines. Pauline loved fashion and writing and landed a position with Vogue’s Paris office.
In 1925, Pauline, a chic flapper, met Hemingway, a struggling writer, and his wife, Hadley Richardson, a St. Louis woman and the mother of his son Jack. The three became friends, but Hadley was soon pushed out of the picture.
In the fall of 1926, Hemingway and Pauline agreed to Hadley’s request – that the couple spend 100 days apart. If at the end of that time they were still in love, Hadley would sign the papers setting Hemingway free.
The attraction continued. Hemingway and Pauline married in 1927 and lived the Paris literary life with other American expatriate writers.
Hemingway possessed a passion for wealthy women, and Pauline was no exception. She had a glamorous job, a huge trust fund and countless more suitable admirers.
As Hemingway became more successful, the couple took jaunts to Europe, Africa, Havana and Wyoming. In 1931, Pauline’s uncle bought a home for the couple in Key West.
The couple had two sons, Patrick and Gregory. Patrick, 70, now lives in Bozeman, Mont., and Gregory, 67, resides in Miami. Hawkins has invited both, along with Jack Hemingway, to the July 4 dedication ceremony.
Although Hemingway and Pauline lived in Key West, the couple often traveled to Piggott to visit Pauline’s family. Hemingway enjoyed the Arkansas countryside and often hunted pheasant. Letters from Hemingway to the Pfeiffers reflect his interest in their rural lifestyle. He also wrote letters to Gertrude Stein and Ezra Pound from Piggott.
“Pauline was his muse,” said Hawkins, who is working on a book about Pauline and Hemingway. “He wrote eight books and numerous short stories while they were together.”
In 1932, Virginia Pfeiffer, Pauline’s bohemian sister, suggested converting the backyard barn into a studio for Hemingway so he could write in peace. One morning, though, the barn caught fire when Hemingway forgot to damp down the stove. As manuscripts were tossed out, Hemingway fumed. He told off, or as legend has it, probably cursed at, a young servant who lit the fire.
“Paul Pfeiffer forced Hemingway to apologize to the boy,” said Hawkins.
Pauline remained in love with Hemingway all her life and sacrificed herself, her writing and her sons to be with him.
Hemingway often tired of his muses, and in 1936, war correspondent Martha Gellhorn caught his eye. He separated from Pauline and divorced her in 1940.
Pauline stayed in the Key West home and opened a designer fabric, upholstery and gift business known as the Carolina Shop.
On Oct. 21, 1951, a year after her mother’s death and seven years after her father died, Pauline died of a brain hemorrhage while visiting her sister in Hollywood. She is buried in an unmarked grave in the Hollywood Memorial Cemetery.
In 1997, Pauline Hemingway crossed Hawkins’s thoughts while she worked on the designation of Crowley’s Ridge Parkway as a national scenic byway.
“I told a photographer who was shooting along the byway to see what he could find out about the Pfeiffer House. He came back and told me it was for sale,” recalled Hawkins. She drove to Piggott on Thanksgiving 1996 to look at the house, which had been bought in 1950 by Tom and Beatrice Janes and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. Its listing on the historic register means it was in good shape when Arkansas State began its Hemingway restoration.
Suddenly a woman with a mission, Hawkins worked furiously to acquire the house. In February 1997, the Arkansas General Assembly appropriated $135,000 to purchase the property. A month later, Sherland and Barbara Hamilton of Rector, who own Crockett Oil Co., offered a $200,000 restoration “challenge grant.”
By April, ASU had acquired the property, and Claudia Shannon began gathering clues about the house.
“When we began the restoration, we had to search out every bit of information because it had been nearly 50 years since a member of the Pfeiffer family lived in the house,” said Shannon. “There were no family photos, and the only remaining Pfeiffer relative we knew of was in her 90s.”
Taking oral histories about the Pfeiffers and their house from former housekeepers, Shannon began piecing together the jigsaw puzzle and reconstructing the furnishings and colors.
It wasn’t until Shannon located Beatrice Janes, now in her 90s and living in North Carolina, that the big pieces fell into place. Last year, Shannon and her husband, Howard, visited Janes, who had a role in “A Face in the Crowd.”
Janes loaned the project some of the Pfeiffers’ furniture and possessions, including a piano Janes’s son owned, that she acquired when she bought the house. Through the years, Piggott residents have collected furnishings from the Pfeiffer house at estate and junk sales. Now the town is giving it all back.
“People have given or sold us all sorts of stuff from all over the country,” said Shannon. “We have a lot of the original furnishings. The only thing lacking is (one of) the quilts that Mr. Pfeiffer bought during the Depression. No one has mentioned one of those to us.”
ASU hopes the historic house will be an educational resource, linking it with other Hemingway conferences and lectures, much the way the University of Mississippi links to its Faulkner connection. While Hawkins and Shannon realize Hemingway didn’t spend his entire life in Piggott, they hope Hemingway hounds will want to see where Hemingway and one of his muses spent time.
“This is an era in time that hasn’t been explored as history because it is so recent,” said Shannon. “But the 1930s was a fascinating period, and Hemingway was a fascinating man. Those two combined in a town that is rich in lore to create a rich asset for this area.”
[This story was originally published on May 23, 1999 in the Memphis Commercial Appeal. Gregory Hemingway died in 2001 at age 69.]
While greeting reporters last week in Washington, Mike Huckabee joked about New Hampshire and his Southern roots.
Huckabee is currently on a book tour to promote his new release, “A Simple Government.” He hits key 2012 states, like Iowa and South Carolina, but not New Hampshire. When asked why there were no New Hampshire stops on his book tour, he told reporters, including Politics Daily’s Walter Shapiro: “Have you ever been to New Hampshire in February? It’s cold up there. My Southern blood isn’t acclimated.”
Spoken like a true Southerner.
Huckabee has built a brand around his folksy, Southern roots that resonates with voters. He duck hunts, jokes about frying squirrel in his dorm room when he was in college and is building a multimillion-dollar beach house in the Redneck Riviera – as the panhandle of Florida is called by middle-class Southerners who vacation there.
As a Republican in a region that has been trending Reagan red since the 1980s, Huckabee could do very well in a 2012 presidential GOP Southern primary. In 2008, Huckabee came in second in the South Carolina Republican primary behind Sen. John McCain despite a lack of solid fundraising.
But Huckabee will certainly have some stiff competition for Southern votes if Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi chooses to run.
To many who do not live in the South, all Southerners may appear as if they are cut from the same Confederate cloth, but that is far from true. Huckabee and Barbour are representative of two different worlds.
Barbour is a product of the stiff, proper old South with a history of plantations, cotton, the Civil War and horrific race relations. He was born into a family with a legacy that can be traced to the state capitol in the early 1880s. Walter Leake, a Barbour ancestor, was the third governor of Mississippi as well as a U.S. senator. His paternal grandfather was a judge who held stock in the local bank and as a lawyer represented railroads. His father, who died when Barbour was 2, was a lawyer. The family was well known in Yazoo City, a town that both thrives on, and is haunted by, its Southern heritage.
Yazoo City didn’t integrate its schools until 1970 – long after Barbour, who attended the University of Mississippi in Oxford, had graduated from high school. The town did not shy away from its connection to the Citizens Council movement, an organization that was founded on the basis of resistance to integration. Barbour, too, hasn’t shied away from the group.
In a December 2010 interview with The Weekly Standard, he said: “You heard of the Citizens Councils? Up North they think it was like the KKK. Where I come from it was an organization of town leaders. In Yazoo City they passed a resolution that said anybody who started a chapter of the Klan would get their ass run out of town. If you had a job, you’d lose it. If you had a store, they’d see nobody shopped there. We didn’t have a problem with the Klan in Yazoo City.”
While Barbour took heat for that comment, many Southerners who grew up in the same time period as Barbour, especially in the Mississippi Delta, understood what he meant. During the Civil Rights movement, the South was a place that operated in black and white.
That South still resonates today with Southerners who attended country clubs that today are still segregated socially, if not legally, by race and private schools founded by wealthy white families.
Barbour, a former powerful lobbyist with a hefty resume filled with Washington connections, is Presbyterian – a religion that is far from fire and brimstone. When Barbour was the chair of the Republican National Committee, many reporters fell under his spell because of “a generous supply of Maker’s Mark in his handy RNC liquor cabinet.” His state of Mississippi has thrived with casino gambling and Barbour, too, has supported it.
If Barbour is a son of the Old South, where politicians prosper because of their ancestry and fraternity connections, Huckabee is the poster child for the emerging South.
Arkansas suffers from an identity crisis. The state never had the grand plantations that were prevalent in Mississippi or a legacy of Confederate millionaires. If anything, Arkansas was as a gateway to the Wild West, a place where those who fled the Civil War landed and stayed either because they ran out of money or feared Indian Territory. Because of that history, Arkansas neither connects whole-heartedly with the proper South or the scrappy West.
Huckabee, like Bill Clinton, grew up in Hope, Arkansas, in a middle-class family. His father was a mechanic and a fireman and his mother was a clerk at a gas company.
When he was governor, he often told a story that resonated with a lot of people who grew up in Arkansas. When he was 8 years old, his father told him, “Son, the governor is coming to dedicate the new lake and make a talk and I’m going to take you down to hear him because you might live your whole life and never see a governor in person,” Huckabee recalls.
“Huckabee has sneered at that Old South mentality,” says Dr. Jay Barth, a political science professor at Hendrix College “He has often resented those who are in positions because of their power. It’s very much indicative of the Arkansas experience and those who made their own wealth – the Tysons, Sam Walton.”
A strict Baptist, Huckabee worked his way through college at Ouachita Baptist University by working at a radio station and pastoring a small church. He continued his path in the ministry, preaching at various churches in the South. In the 1980s, he encouraged the all-white Immanuel Baptist Church in Pine Bluff to accept black members. He became the president of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention.
Huckabee doesn’t drink nor did he serve alcohol at events in the governor’s mansion during his term. He and his wife, Janet, renewed their vows in a convenant marriage ceremony while he was governor. And Huckabee is against gambling.
Unlike Barbour who worked for the Richard Nixon campaign in 1968, Huckabee had no legacy in politics – national or local. He built his following from scratch in the early 1990s when he decided to challenge Democratic incumbent U.S. Sen. Dale Bumpers – a brave move for a Republican pastor in a dyed-in-the-wool Democratic state.
Huckabee, a conservative populist, could resonate in 2012 among tea party supporters who have never dabbled in politics. He doesn’t shy away from his religion or the belief that the separation of church and state is impossible. He understands grassroots mobilizing, thanks to his church background and will be able to energize the religious-right base.
But Barbour brings something much more powerful to the table. His years of political wheeling and dealing and moneyed contacts are legendary — a plus in a crowded primary where money will make or break a candidate.
If Huckabee and Barbour choose to run, their campaigns will be a contrast of two Souths — the emerging one of self-made success with church at its center and the fading glory of the old Confederacy with legacy and ancestry at its core.
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – The Little Rock Nine hold a special place in Bill Clinton’s heart.
He returned here on Saturday to honor the nine African-American students who in 1957 were prevented from attending the racially segregated Little Rock Central High School by the Gov. Orval Faubus and angry mobs that threatened lynching.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower issued Executive Order 10730, which sent units of the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division to Little Rock and federalized the Arkansas National Guard to escort the students into the school.
The protests continued, but the Little Rock Nine were eventually admitted to Central High. They still faced verbal and physical abuse, and the incident clouded the national perception of Arkansas for decades. And it became one of the most important events in the civil rights movement.
Clinton celebrated the unveiling of a new permanent exhibit, which features the Little Rock Nine Congressional Gold Medal, at his presidential library. In 1999, then-President Clinton bestowed the Congressional Gold Medal, the country’s highest civilian honor, to the Little Rock Nine at a White House ceremony.
After a video with crisp footage of Eisenhower’s famous 1957 address to the nation about the Central High crisis, Carlotta Walls LaNier, one of the Little Rock Nine and president of the Little Rock Nine Foundation, introduced Clinton, sporting a gray three-piece suit and a Navy blue tie.
At times, Clinton sounded troubled about the direction of the country, and his speech seemed more political than commemorative.
He talked about the controversial ending of a busing plan by tea party board members in a North Carolina school district that had allowed diverse students to attend school together. He mentioned the campaign to repeal health care reform and what he characterized as backward steps on energy and education. And Clinton harshly criticized the growing conservative agenda, saying the country was “infected with a virus” that believes any federal power is “quashing democracy.”
He said that Eisenhower was a genuine conservative Republican for his time, but that didn’t stop him from using federal power to gain equal opportunity for all Americans regardless of race. “Conservative means something very different today than it did in 1957,” Clinton said.
Clinton was 11 years old when the Central High crisis unfolded. He said that he watched Eisenhower on television but could not tell if he was a Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative. He never forgot the message or the historical moment.
In 1977, when he was the state’s attorney general, Clinton attended an event at Central High School with members of the Little Rock Nine and the Rev. Jesse Jackson. Clinton recalled that Jackson, a liberal activist, gave an unlikely speech.
“He gave what would be a right-wing conservative speech today,” Clinton said.
Clinton’s point: Jackson spoke about his position on family values without politics entering the dialogue. That no longer happens, he said. But it should.
“We need voices of America to remember the mission we were given,” he said. “Listen to President Eisenhower . . . let’s try to give it [a more perfect union] to more people in the 21st century.”
The South is a place where many folks still want to believe in an antebellum region of moonlight and magnolias.
Sometimes, that nostalgia clashes head-on with the politically correct present. In Mississippi, such a battle is raging over — of all things — license plates marking the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.
The Sons of Confederate Veterans has launched a campaign to issue one of the specialty license plates honoring Confederate Lt. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, who was once the Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. The NAACP and a Facebook group are protesting the plate, which at the earliest would be unveiled in 2014.
This little drama comes at a perilous time for Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, who was in Washington this past week attending the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) and positioning himself for a possible 2012 run. So far, Barbour has not responded to the controversy but he seldom shies away from his Southern heritage.
And in the South, Forrest is a legend and a hero among Civil War buffs.
The town of Forrest City in eastern Arkansas near Memphis is named in his honor. The Ku Klux Klan hosted rallies in the town as recently as a few years ago. In neighboring Tennessee, Forrest’s home state, a state park is named for him. The park’s website calls him “the intrepid Confederate cavalry leader.” Forrest Gump, the character created by Winston Groom, was named after him.
Even Barbour doesn’t shy away from Forrest. As governor, he has attended the National Championship Hunt for bird dogs and hosted a reception at Galena Plantation, the original home of Forrest, who was a millionaire when the Civil War started, in Holly Springs, Miss.
Forrest was accused of war crimes at the Battle of Fort Pillow in 1864 after his military forces conducted a bloody massacre of hundreds of black Union Army and white southern prisoners sympathetic to the Union. That only endeared him to rebel leaders like Confederate President Jefferson Davis, who lamented that the Confederacy did not utilize Forrest’ abilities to mobilize and strategize enough.
He joined the Ku Klux Klan, but then left it because he felt the group was too violent. Most academics agree that this was Forrest’s reasoning for leaving.
“If Christian redemption means anything — and we all want redemption, I think — he redeemed himself in his own time, in his own actions, in his own words,” Greg Stewart, a member of the Mississippi Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, told the Associated Press. “We should respect that.”
The group has had a specialty license plate since 2003. Until last year, it featured a small Confederate flag, but a re-design now features Beauvoir mansion in Biloxi, Miss., the final home of Confederate president Davis. Legislators would have to approve the Forrest plate, but they have okayed more than 100 of them over the years.
The Sons of Confederate Veterans group evolved from the United Confederate Veterans, which was formed in the late 1800s. The group is “a historical, patriotic, and non-political organization dedicated to insuring that a true history of the 1861-1865 period is preserved.” Members must have “descended from any veteran who served honorably in the Confederate armed forces.” They often participate in historical re-enactments and also preserve Confederate soldiers’ graves.
The Southern Poverty Law Center in Birmingham, however, says that the group has been dominated by “racial extremists since 2002.” It also states that the radical faction has sought to turn “the SCV into an explicitly political group that pushes racist neo-Confederate ideas and issues.”
In the South, the push-and-pull of the past looms largely.
Martin Luther King, Jr. shares a holiday with Confederate General Robert E. Lee in many Southern states including Mississippi.
In Natchez, Miss., the city still hosts spring and fall pilgrimages that showcase the grandest of plantations from the Civil War era.
Hostesses wear elaborate hooped dresses and black women dress up like Mamie from “Gone With the Wind” and offer pralines for sale. The town sees it as an economic engine. And it works. Tourists from as far away as Europe visit during the pilgrimages, which began during the Great Depression as a way for the town to make money and restore the palatial homes.
The United Daughters of the Confederacy, based in Virginia, also exists as a women’s heritage association dedicated to honoring the memory of those who served and died in service to the Confederate States of America. The group began in the late 1800s to collect money for memorials to Confederate veterans and battles.
It, too, has a controversial past. It opposed integration of public schools in the 1950s and suggested that an all-white public school rename itself after – guess who? Yes, Nathan Bedford Forrest.
In July, the Sons of Confederate Veterans are planning a convention in Montgomery, Ala., celebrating “The Cause for Southern Independence.” The first morning of the convention kicks off with, yes, a “Forrest Cavalry Breakfast.”
Soul mates are hard to find.
But former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford has likely found his, and no thanks to popular websites like Match.com and eHarmony.
The couple fascinates the Argentine press. The Argentine celebrity magazine “Caras” published an eight-page spread on them. One picture shows Sanford in a blue polo shirt, khaki shorts, baseball cap and sunglasses holding hands with Chapur in white shorts and a gauzy top. Other pictures show the pair enjoying a day at the beach. They look, well, happy.
If Danielle Steel was writing the story of Mark and Maria, it would be a best-seller.
The popular governor of a Southern state with the heiress wife and four sons meets an exotic divorced woman, a former journalist turned commodity broker, who speaks four languages, at an open-air dance spot in Punte del Este, a jet set locale.
They become friends. They chat over the next seven years on e-mail. Suddenly, passion ignites and friendship turns to romance. But roadblocks loom everywhere. The Republican governor is a family-values man in a conservative state with a high-profile national role as the chair of the National Governors Association.
His head belongs to politics, his heart to a woman thousands of miles away. He balances home life with governing the state, but thinks constantly of the woman he will die “knowing is his soul mate.”
Mark must see Maria even if it means jeopardizing his family and career. He sneaks away to Argentina without telling his staff. His absence is noticed and his wife, who knows about Maria, and says he has disappeared before. His staff says he is hiking on the Appalachian Trail. Enter an intrepid local reporter who gets a tip, meets Mark’s plane from Argentina at a metropolitan airport and busts him.
His career is on the line. Maria is chased by media. Her e-mails are hacked and love notes are leaked to the press. Mark risks it all and gives an interview declaring Maria is his soul mate. His critics – and even some supporters – want Mark to resign. He refuses. Impeachment begins, but fails. His wife moves out of the governor’s mansion. He is censured. He stays in office and true to Maria, who never sells out for fame and fortune but holds steady for love.
If Mark Sanford’s story were a romance novel, we would be rooting for the love birds to live happily ever after, walking on a beach at sunset with glasses of champagne. But in real life in the United States, affairs and infidelity are looked upon as sinful, distasteful and wrong.
Sanford isn’t alone in his quest for true love. Researchers have said there is a 50-50 chance that a partner will have an affair during a marriage. That includes non-physical relationships such as romance via e-mail, which is how Mark and Maria began their romance.
Although Maria is likely to get the blame for the Sanfords break-up, she was likely not the cause. As Dr. John Mordecai Gottman, a psychologist who studies marital stability, says, “Most marriages die with a whimper, as people turn away from one another, slowly growing apart.”
It happens. Just look at Al and Tipper Gore. No one would have seen their split coming ten years ago – although Al and Tipper might have.
Politicians are people, too. Mark Sanford wasn’t caught in a tawdry scene in a cheap motel by an interstate. It appears he fell in love. His path begs the questions: What would you do for love? Keep your current life or toss it all for “the one”? Mark and Maria walked through the fire together and came out on the other side. Loyalties tested, they both passed.
Last week, according to the Argentine press, Mark and Maria sped around town in her gray Peugeot (it would be an exotic car, wouldn’t it?), passing through the neighborhood where they met 11 years ago. (That alone is admirable. It is hard enough to maintain a friendship for 11 years, much less something deeper.) They enjoyed a long lunch. They walked on the beach. They revisited Punte del Este where they met those many years ago.
“Belen and Mark took in the sun, walked hand-in-hand along the surf and kissed passionately, showing that long-distance love, in the electronic age, is not impossible,” according to the “Caras” story.
The Associated Press has sought comment from Sanford. He did not respond. Cue the love song as end credits roll.
Arkansas has a way of making it onto the national stage — and sometimes the publicity isn’t very complimentary.
The latest from Bill Clinton’s home state: Harps grocery store in the small town of Mountain Home in northern Arkansas deemed a magazine story on gay singer Elton John to be obscene.
The store placed gray “family shields” over copies of the Us Weekly magazine, which features the singer, his partner, and their new adopted baby. Printed on the shields were the words: “To protect our young shoppers.”
But the shields didn’t stay up for long — not after members of the Arkansas’ GLBT community started calling the Harps corporate offices in Springdale.
The company, which runs 65 Harps stories in Arkansas, Oklahoma and Missouri, released a statement on its website Wednesday afternoon. It said in part:
“Our true intention is not to offend anyone and this incident happened at just one of of our 65 locations, which when brought to our attention, we reversed,” Kim B. Eskew, Harps president and COO.
The statement explained that it is the company leaves it up to the local manager’s discretion to use the shields when customers complain about offensive material. The Mountain Home store said it covered the Elton John magazine after receiving such complaints.
The censorship ignited GLBT activists.
“It’s Us magazine, not Hustler,” said Randi Romo of the Center for Artistic Revolution, a non-profit dedicated to fairness and equality for all Arkansans. “Families come in all kinds of configurations and yes, sometimes that means they consist of same-sex couples raising their children. Many same-sex families live right here in Arkansas. The last census showed that there are same-sex couple households living in every single county in Arkansas.”
My beloved home state of Arkansas is unparalleled at perpetuating its own stereotypes of Bible-thumping, backwardness, bigotry, racism, and intolerance.
Last week, the town of Marshall made national news when its mayor flew a Confederate flag over city hall for four days, including on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. The mayor said it was in honor of Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s birthday. Arkansas is one of a handful of Southern states that celebrates Lee’s birthday on the same day as King’s.
This week, the city council, which did not approve of the mayor’s actions, voted that only the state and U.S. flag can be flown on city property.
Last year, in response to gay suicides around the country, Midland School Board Vice President Clint McCance came under national scrutiny for a series of vicious and inflammatory anti-gay rants on Facebook. He resigned after an online campaign to oust him and a GLBT group from Little Rock protested the small school.
Even governors can take a step or two from progress. Former Gov. Mike Huckabee once bragged on “Morning Joe” about eating fried squirrel. “When I was in college, we used to take a popcorn popper, because that was the only thing they would let us use in the dorm, and we would fry squirrels in a popcorn popper in the dorm room.” (For the record, few Arkansans have ever done this, according to my own informal survey.)
In 2009, atheists battled the secretary of state’s office for the right to display a winter solstice exhibit on the capitol grounds near a large nativity scene. They eventually gained the right, but some atheists now worry that the right may be taken away since a conservative GOP secretary of state won the election last year.
There is only one way to describe Arkansas: land of extremes.
The state is progressive in many areas, and feudal in many others. The state has a history of electing progressive federal representatives. Sens. J. William Fulbright, David Pryor and Dale Bumpers and long-time Congressman Wilbur Mills come to mind. Then there’s Bill Clinton, who attempted to allow gays in the military and reform the health care system in his first year in office. Arkansas can also claim one of the most liberal surgeon generals to ever hit Washington – Dr. Joycelyn Elders.
Arkansas is home to some of the world’s biggest companies – Walmart and Tyson Foods — and is becoming a regional hotspot for wind-energy manufacturing. The William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Center and his school for public service lures thousands of tourists and illustrious speakers from around the world.
But if the chance arises to spectacularly display our foibles on a national news stage, we jump at the chance, especially if it involves GLBT lifestyles or sex.
That’s certainly ironic, as I discovered when I wrote my book, “Sex in the South: Unbuckling the Bible Belt.” In the 1970s, Arkansas became the home of the first Miss Gay America pageant. The drag queen pageant only blossomed in popularity over the decades.
Little Rock is also home to two of the largest gay and lesbian nightclubs – Discovery and Backstreet. And yes, straight people do go.
“Strong and vibrant queer communities such as Eureka Springs and the surrounding lesbian-only communities have had a presence in the mountains surrounding Mountain Home [where the Harps grocery is located] for decades,” says Brock Thompson, author of “The Un-Natural State: Arkansas and the Queer South.”
Eureka Springs has the only Domestic Partnership Registry in Arkansas, which often comes under fire by legislators who want to halt the registry.
Just this month, researchers reported that gay couples in Southern states like Arkansas are more likely to be raising children than their counterparts on the West Coast, in New York and in New England.
The push-pull of progression versus moral repression bubbles incessantly in Arkansas, which makes the love-hate relationship for many Arkansans all the stronger.
Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who has served three terms in the Senate, is hanging up her political hat next year and returning to Texas.
Hutchison and her husband, Ray Hutchison, a bond attorney in Dallas, adopted two children, Kathryn Bailey and Houston Taylor in 2001. She was 58 at the time. Her husband, a former member of the Texas legislature who lost a campaign for governor in 1978, was 68.
Though the adoptions created a mild controversy about older parents adopting children, Hutchison once referred to the move as “just a dream come true for us.”
Hutchison, the most senior female currently serving in the U.S. Senate, has had a storied political career in Texas state politics and Washington.
In 1993, she became the first — and so far the only — woman to represent Texas in the Senate when she won a special election after Lloyd Bentsen resigned to become secretary of the treasury in the Clinton Administration. At the time, she was serving as state treasurer.
The next year, she won a full six-year term. In 2000, she was the first Texas U.S. senator to receive more than 4 million votes in a single election.
In 2010, Hutchison ran against Texas Gov. Rick Perry as a moderate alternative. But her pro-choice position became fodder for Perry. Although she had endorsements from former President George H.W. Bush and former Vice President Dick Cheney, Hutchison lost to Perry 31 percent to 53 percent in the Republican primary.
Hutchison is one of the Republican Party’s brightest stars, often appearing on political talk shows to press the GOP agenda. Still, she broke ranks during the health care debate and opposed an attempt to stall the bill in the Senate.
But on most issues, she stands by her party. Just last month, she said she would not support the DREAM Act and voted against the repeal of “Don’t ask, don’t tell.”
In 2006, she received more campaign contributions from members of large oil and gas corporations than any other member of Congress. Just this week, in a press release from her office, she “cautioned against putting American energy jobs at risk through new layers of bureaucracy recommended in the National Oil Spill Commission’s report on the BP oil spill.”
Hutchison has been a fierce advocate for NASA, Amtrak, military families and homeland security. She serves as the ranking Republican on the Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs.
During her political career, Hutchison has had a series of strange threats and stalkers. A man who volunteered on her first state legislative race in 1972 asked her to marry him. She said no, and he broke into her campaign office, driving an ice pick through a campaign poster with her image. The man resurfaced periodically in her life.
In 1996, Hutchison led efforts for a new federal anti-stalking law. Former President Bill Clinton called her “a victim of stalking who fought back.”
Her stalker died in 2002, but six years later, another entered Hutchison’s life, referring to her children’s adoption in disturbing phone messages. He was later indicted and charged with third-degree felony stalking.
Hints have been floating that Hutchison would not seek re-election. In August 2009, she put her 4,300-square-foot home in Virginia up for sale. At the time, an aide said, “She’s coming home to Texas. That’s why it’s for sale.”
The mystery: Dead blackbirds, dead fish.
The setting: Rural Arkansas on New Year’s Eve.
The story: In a town named Beebe, thousands of red-winged blackbirds begin to drop dead out of the sky onto New Year’s revelers. Coincidentally, the surname of the Arkansas governor is Beebe. Meanwhile, 125 miles away, 100,000 drum fish are found belly-up in the Arkansas River. Two days later, in Louisiana, 500 more red-winged blackbirds are discovered dead on a highway, and Kentucky reports bird deaths. Religious leaders begin preaching about the end times. Officials say loud fireworks or weather are tied to the bird deaths. The fish likely died from disease. Social media erupts with conspiracy theories. It makes the news in Russia. People don’t believe the government.
Questions, fear and plenty of speculation erupt.
As one Democrat quipped, “Could the birds be harbingers of bad things to come as they fell right as the GOP was taking over?”
Many people joke that maybe too many people were playing the computer game “Angry Birds.”
Or as Jon Stewart said Monday night on “The Daily Show,” maybe Arkansas is just in the running this year for “leading exporter of bat-bleep crazy.” Last year, it was South Carolina.
The official line is that the birds died of blunt trauma to their organs and suffered blood clots resulting from a massive midair collision. The theory is that they were startled by something — fireworks or weather.
But the storms that rocked the state earlier in the day had moved way east of Arkansas by the time the birds fell, according to the National Weather Service in North Little Rock. On the fireworks front, the city of Beebe does not host a large pyrotechnic display on New Year’s Eve. Would a few bottle rockets do that kind of damage? Arkansas officials are still investigating the fish kill.
Dead fish have also been found in Chesapeake Bay in Maryland. More than 100 tons of sardines were found dead in Brazil on Sunday. New Zealand media reported on Tuesday that dead, mostly eyeless, snapper had washed up on several Coromandel Peninsula beaches.
Naturally, people have jumped from disease explanations to government cover-ups worthy of an old “X-Files” episode, to signs of the apocalypse.
The town of Beebe sits less than 20 miles from the Little Rock Air Force Base. Could the base be conducting secret tests? Last year, it was reported that some Air Force researchers were testing high-powered microwave blasts to knock small robo-planes out of the sky. Officials with the Little Rock Air Force Base did not return calls for comment.
Other theories involve poison from the BP Gulf disaster. Another one centers on drilling and fracking throughout Arkansas. Environmental causes are often the reason behind many wildlife deaths such as honeybees and birds. Is the world at an ecological tipping point?
One theory that could have some real basis also looms.
Arkansas sits on the New Madrid earthquake fault line. It extends from northeast Arkansas through southeast Missouri and into western Tennessee, western Kentucky and southern Illinois. A series of strong earthquakes occurred in 1812 in this area. Reports from the time say that wildlife died before the big ones.
Geologists have predicted that in the next 50 years, if not sooner, a devastating earthquake of 6.5 or higher might happen. In late 2008, the Obama administration’s Long Term Disaster Recovery Working Group held five meetings around the country, including in Memphis, which sits in the heart of the fault line. Maybe they need to meet again.
Then, there’s the conspiracy theory that links two major news stories this week — the birds and the death of John P. Wheeler, III.
According to WhatDoesItMean.com, (one headline from the site: US Descends Into Total Police State As 2012 ‘Solar Chaos’ Fears Grow) a document has been prepared for Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin by the Foreign Military Intelligence Directorate. It supposedly shows a linkage between the birds and Wheeler, the special assistant to the secretary of the Air Force from 2005-2008 who was found dead in a Delaware landfill.
Basically, as the story goes, a malfunction in an Air Force tanker carrying Phosgene poisonous gas caused the deadly brew to be sprayed over central Arkansas. Wheeler then confronted the Pentagon and ended up dead.
But the strange but true tales of wildlife deaths also prompted some folks to exercise their capitalist muscles. A T-shirt with a dead bird is already on sale in Little Rock. With bird deaths occurring globally, the creator may soon have a thriving business.
The case has attracted national attention, including support for the woman from domestic-violence and First Amendment groups. The (now-former) cheerleader has appeared on CNN, and 15,000 people have an online petition asking the school district in her small town of Silsbee, Texas to apologize to her.
In the fall of 2008, the cheerleader, identified in court documents as H.S., was at a post-football game party at a friend’s home when she said three boys, including the school’s star basketball player, Rakheem Bolton, took her into a game room and sexually assaulted her. He and the others were arrested, but a grand jury declined to indict them. A year later, however, Bolton was indicted on a felony charge of sexual assault of a child, according to The Silsbee Bee. Two months ago, Bolton pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of simple assault in the case, was fined $2,500 and ordered to perform 150 hours of community service and take an anger-management course.
In May 2009, the family sued the Silsbee school district, Richard Bain, Jr., the superintendent; Gaye Lokey, the principal; Sissy McInnis, the cheerleading team’s adviser; Bolton, the basketball player and David Sheffield, the district attorney in federal court on grounds that H.S.’s 14th Amendment rights (especially her right to equal protection) had been violated. According to an account in the Washington Post, H.S.’s lawyer also argued that the district attorney “violated the First Amendment by retaliating against H.S. for filing sexual assault charges by revealing details about the case to the public.” H.S. contended she was punished because of her “symbolic expression” not to cheer for the player.
The defendants moved to dismiss her complaint, and the judge agreed, saying H.S.’s lawyer failed to clearly state an actionable claim. The judge gave H.S. a chance to amend her complaint and refile it. She did, and the defendants again moved to dismiss. The case was indeed dismissed, and H.S. appealed to the Fifth Circuit.
On Sept. 16, a three-judge panel of the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans upheld the dismissal, ruling that the cheerleader’s First Amendment right to free speech was not violated because in her role as a cheerleader, she “served as a mouthpiece” for the school, not herself. It further ruled that school officials “had no duty to promote (her) message by allowing her to cheer or not cheer, as she saw fit.” It also ruled that her act constituted interference “with the work of the school” because as a cheerleader, she was at the game “for the purpose of cheering, a position she undertook voluntarily.” Finally, it ruled that the cheerleader and her family must pay court costs for bringing about a frivolous suit.
Last week, H.S. filed a petition for a re-hearing en banc, requesting that all judges on the bench — not just a three-judge panel — hear the case. Watts said his client has no legal right to have the entire court hear the issue. A majority of the judges will have to vote to allow that. He said that the case is extraordinary in one regard.
“There aren’t many times you’re going to have a rape victim silenced or being censored classified as disruptive speech,” Watts told Politics Daily. “Her actions were not disruptive. The school officials were watching her and waiting. She was targeted. But because she was, we’re in this situation. The court has now used this to try muzzle the free speech of students even more.”
Symbolic speech is often described by legal scholars as purposefully and discernibly conveying a particular message or statement to those viewing it. It is distinguished from pure speech, which is spoken or written.
Would the cheerleader have had a stronger case if she held up a sign calling the basketball played a rapist?
Legal experts say the Fifth Circuit panel that dismissed H.S.’s appeal is one of the most conservative courts in the country. Emilio Garza and Edith Clement were once on President George W. Bush’s short list for a Supreme Court vacancy. Priscilla Owen, a former Texas Supreme Court justice, is also on the court in New Orleans. She was a Bush appointee whose confirmation was slowed by a Democratic filibuster.