September 26, 2016

This Month in Arkansas History: September

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This month is full of events historic and otherwise, and history being made as we write about it.

There She is, Miss America

miss-americaPhoto courtesy of Miss America Organization

For instance, September 11, 2016, marked the third time a Miss Arkansas contestant won the Miss America pageant. Savvy Shields is a 21-year-old senior art major at the University of Arkansas and a jazz dancer who performed a dance to music from the show “Smash.”

Other Miss Americas crowned from Arkansas include Elizabeth Ward (now Gracen), who was Miss America 1982, and Donna Axum, Miss America for 1964.

Diamond Discovery

A report in the Nashville News of Howard County on September 12, 1906, reported that John Huddleston had found diamonds on his land three miles south of Murfreesboro.

The story said he sold one stone for $200 and another for $400, and had been offered as much as $36,000 for the tract of land on which the diamonds were found, but he refused to sell.

The diamonds – a 1.5 carat yellow and a 3 carat white – were actually found in August, their authenticity and size verified by Dr. George F. Kunz of Tiffany Co., the nation’s leading authority on precious stones, who found a diamond on the site himself when he visited.

By September, diamond mining interests started arriving in the state, and he accepted $360 cash for an extendable six-month option for mining the land, which went to a group of businessmen from Little Rock led by Samuel Reyburn. The land was quite rich in diamonds, and about 20,000 were recovered in all while it was being mined actively.

The largest diamonds found in the area included a 17.86 carat yellow diamond found in 1917, a 20.25 carat white diamond uncovered in 1921 and the record-setting 40.23 carat gem known as Uncle Sam, found in 1924.

Desegregation

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The story of the desegregation of Little Rock Central High School covers many years and indeed is still happening today, but what most people think of as the Little Rock Crisis took place largely in September of 1957.

On Sept. 4, nine African-American students attempted to enter Central High School and were turned away by the National Guard. Gov. Orval Faubus, whose orders were blocking the desegregation, met with President Dwight D. Eisenhower on Sept. 14 in the hope of reaching a settlement, but no agreement was reached.

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Judge Ronald Davies ordered Faubus and the National Guard to stop interfering with the desegregation order on Sept. 20, and the next Monday, Sept. 23, the African-American students entered the school for the first time, with Little Rock police officers left to deal with a mob of more than 1,000 people.

Eisenhower federalized the Arkansas National Guard and sent troops from the Army’s 101st Airborne Division to escort the students to class beginning Sept. 25.

In other desegregation news, on Sept. 10, 1954, Fayetteville became the first city in the state to go public with news that it had successfully and peacefully integrated its high school (lower grades would be desegregated over time). Seven African-American students entered Fayetteville High School that year. But Charleston had quietly desegregated its entire district on Aug. 23 of the same year, being the first in the state to desegregate.

Titan II Explosion

The Titan II was a nuclear-tipped missile, also known as an intercontinental ballistic missile, designed to defend America against attack from other nations. The first launch took place March 16, 1962, and the missiles were housed at Air Force bases and military installations around the country, including Titan II Launch Complex 374-7 in Southside, just north of Damascus in Van Buren County.

A mishap occurred at the launch complex on September 18, 1980, when an airman conducting maintenance on the missile dropped a wrench socket, which fell and pierced the skin of the rocket’s fuel tank, causing a leak.

Both military personnel and nearby civilians were evacuated from the area, and about 3 a.m. the next day, after Senior Airman David Livingston and Sergeant Jeff K. Kennedy took readings at the launch complex and found airborne fuel concentrations to be at their maximum, the missile exploded.

The 740-ton launch duct closure door was blown 200 feet in the air and about 600 feet from the complex, while the nuclear warhead landed about 100 feet from the entry gate to the complex (it operated correctly and no radioactive material escaped).

Kennedy suffered a broken leg and was thrown 150 feet; Livingston was found in the rubble and died of his injuries later that day. In all, 21 people were injured by the explosion or in the rescue efforts, and six servicemen would receive Airman’s Medals for Heroism because of their actions that day.

Births and Deaths

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Isaac Murphy, the eighth governor of Arkansas, died Sept. 8, 1882. Murphy was a delegate to the convention at which Arkansas voted to secede from the Union; he was the only person who refused to change his vote when the tide turned for secession after Fort Sumter. He was chosen as provisional governor in a highly irregular process in early 1864 and served through the war’s end and until the election of 1868.

Elisha Baxter, Arkansas’ tenth governor, was born Sept. 1, 1827, in North Carolina; Francis Cherry, our 35th governor, was born Sept. 5, 1908, in Fort Worth, Texas.

George Washington Hays was born Sept. 23, 1863. He served as Arkansas’ 24th governor, from August 6, 1913, to Jan. 10, 1917. He also died in September, Sept. 15, 1927, to be precise. He had been ill from influenza and contracted pneumonia at the same time. He’s buried in Camden, where he was born.

Sarah White

Arkansas Women Blogger member Sarah E. White is a knitter, crafter, mom and writer based in Fayetteville. She writes at Our Daily Craft about crafting with and for kids and creating the life you’ve always wanted, as well as writing the knitting websites for About.com and Craft Gossip. She has three published books on knitting.

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