Columns » John Brummett

Read this in 50 years

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Maybe I should take extra pains with this column, since it's intended not only for readers today, but for those a half-century from now.

You see, well-meaning people committed to racial reconciliation in Little Rock have an idea. They aim to plant a time capsule on the imminent occasion of the 50th anniversary commemoration of the school integration crisis at Little Rock Central. It will be opened for the 100th anniversary.

A couple of the organizers of this project stopped by the other day to ask if I'd write something to go into the capsule. I suspect they were less interested in my submission than in flattering me into publicizing their project.

No doubt the showcase items in this capsule will be whatever Elizabeth Eckford, the most mistreated of the famously mistreated Little Rock Nine, chooses to donate.

Having no phone that fateful morning 50 years ago, she didn't get the word conveyed to the eight others that they were not to show up at Central. So she strolled bravely and famously alone, through raging ignorance and hate, toward a school that would reject her.

She's promised personal items for the capsule, maybe even her diary.

For my part, I intend for this column to serve a dual purpose — to tout the capsule for readers today, then get deposited into the capsule for any who might read it 50 years from now.

I've also chatted about this project with an old friend, Jimmy Moses, the urban planner and real estate developer whose vision, execution and risk have pretty much built the bustling River Market district in Little Rock.

He was a grade school youngster in 1957 when downtown's Main Street thrived as a commercial center that included his dad's legendary establishment, Moses Melody Shop, the local iTunes for a generation.

Moses spent many, indeed most, of the 50 years after the Central crisis dreaming of reviving his hometown's abandoned and decayed downtown, honing his vision, despairing at the seeming futility, pondering whether to abandon his dream and, finally, seeing it happen, or begin to happen.

I've encouraged him to write a vision for the next 50 years to go into this capsule, something for people a half-century hence to compare with whatever today's bright and bright-eyed grade school youngsters will have done with the town in the interim.

He seemed intrigued. I hope he found the time.

For my part, I simply wish to take the remaining space to ask a few questions of readers 50 years from now:

Did Little Rockians return to the central city, availing themselves of the existing infrastructure in neglected neighborhoods, such as the very one around Central High, to live in restored homes, whites and blacks side by side?

Has this lessened crime, pretty much a tragic epidemic in the central city of our day?

Is schooling still pretty much a public enterprise, and did responsible, consensus-building governance — scandalously absent in our day — ever come to the Little Rock schools?

If the city indeed came back to its center, what happened to all those big-box retail establishments out west? If commercial and development patterns changed, what was done with these monstrous, imagination-devoid structures? Were they demolished and replaced with green space?

Is there a way to get transported in the city other than by automobile? Are people walking in and through these central-city neighborhoods? Did the region's local governments ever get rail transportation up and running?

How's the River Market holding up and did the rebirth ever extend to Main Street, still a ghost street as I write?

Do you still have newspapers? On actual paper, I mean.

Did the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette ever run a decent editorial?

Did the Razorbacks ever win a national football championship?

Strike those last two questions on account of their extreme remoteness.

This capsule will be presented at 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 23, at the Bullock Temple AME Church, across the street from Central. It will then be opened for deposits for a couple of days.

In the meantime, visit littlerockunity.org if you want information about how to submit items, which are welcomed from across the state, nation and world.

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