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The Old Lady has left the building

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THE PRESSES HAVE STOPPED: The historic Arkansas Democrat Gazette building is vacant today.
  • THE PRESSES HAVE STOPPED: The historic Arkansas Democrat Gazette building is vacant today.

Though the Little Rock Central High integration crisis was the Arkansas Gazette's finest hour — of many — the newspaper will not be participating in the 50th anniversary celebrations. Death has taken precedence.

For its coverage of the momentous events of 1957, the Gazette won two Pulitzer Prizes, the admiration of the journalistic profession, and the gratitude of Americans who believed in the rule of law and the brotherhood of man. It also earned the abiding hatred of segregationists, generally, and Gov. Orval E. Faubus and his followers, particularly. Faubus, also deceased, will miss the anniversary, too. We can be reasonably sure that if these two antagonists were still around — the great newspaper and the great rabble-rouser — their opinions of each other would be largely unchanged.

The Gazette was the oldest newspaper in the state — the oldest anything, really — and much the largest until 1957, when its circulation temporarily slipped below that of its rival, the Arkansas Democrat, which mostly hid out editorially during the crisis, avoiding strong positions. But in a few years, the Gazette again had the largest circulation, and maintained the lead until the newspaper died in 1991, the loser in a war with the Democrat, which by that time had been purchased by a privately owned chain whose boss covered the Democrat's losses with the profits from his other papers. The Gazette was chain-owned by then, too, and many of its friends felt it was never the same without local ownership. After the Gazette closed, the Democrat bought its name. Today's Democrat-Gazette sometimes claims the Gazette's history as its own, but the two papers are unrelated.

Harry Ashmore also is among the departed. The Gazette's executive editor in '57, his editorials accounted for one of the two Pulitzers. The other was given the newspaper for public service. Coincidentally, the current executive editor of the Democrat-Gazette is Griffin Smith, who probably would enjoy being told that he's no Harry Ashmore. Smith is the son of a Little Rock lawyer who was on the segregationist side in ‘57, and he occasionally slips a little rewritten history into his newspaper. Usually he gets caught, by the Arkansas Times, among others.

— Doug Smith

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