Little Rock then and now and

Little Rock thenThis past week I went to Little Rock, Arkansas, for work and was not especially looking forward to my trip—weaned, as I had been, on images of the state’s 36th governor, Orval Eugene Faubus, defying the Supreme Court’s landmark Brown Vs. Board of Education decision and calling in the Arkansas National Guard to prevent nine African American students from entering the racially segregated Little Rock Central High.

As my plane descended, however, I was more than a little taken with the lush green landscape, boggy though it was, and, despite myself, I immediately fell in love with the entire state. Our lodging, the Capital Hotel, was the bomb, as it is said, where smiles abounded and where gracious good will seemed a way of life; where I found hand-packed, ribbon-tied toffee on my bed each night; and where each day my toiletries were spread out and lovingly arranged on a hand towel. Everywhere we went, the food was delicious, though nowhere more so than at Brave New Restaurant (the name would not have been my choice), which overlooked the Arkansas River and which served exquisitely fresh salads and crusty sourdough bread.

A few hours before we were to catch our planes, we visited the William J. Clinton Presidential Center, which was very great fun and of enormous interest. For three dollars, we could hold a phone and listen to Bill describe the various exhibits, so we did! And, it was as if he had been speaking to each one of us, alone (I even half expected to hear him say my name). A nosey parker at heart, I particularly enjoyed the handwritten/typed letters from Whoopi, Elton, Queen Noor, and many others and especially liked that the comedienne called Bill “the cat’s pajamas.” I had fantasies, too, about how I might get myself invited to the Clinton “apartment” that sits atop the museum.

Our meeting had been a great success, also, and we were all patting ourselves on the back for it and were gushing about how wonderful the attendees were. But, I just couldn’t leave well enough alone and, after, was compelled to tell my colleagues the story of the college president who sat at the table behind me during an interactive session and who, in a booming voice, referred to the African American students on his campus as “the blacks.” I almost got whiplash.

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