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Published: August 15th 2011
Welcome to Checotah!7-31-11 to 8/1/11
Hometown of American Idol winner Carrie Underwood
Little Rock, Arkansas
I can’t express how exciting and refreshing it has been to drive across this beautiful country of mine. This 350 mile stretch took me from Oklahoma City to Little Rock, Arkansas. I think what was cool about driving through Oklahoma was passing through all the Native American lands: Shawnee, Creek, Cherokee and my favorite—Kickapoo (just to name a few). It would be fun to do a Native American themed drive across the nation to learn more about the various tribal histories.
I think it would also be pretty cool to do a music-themed tour of the U.S. (I guess I’m a thematic person). Oklahoma boasts a few musical greats. I drove past Okemah, home of Woodie Guthrie and through Checotah, made famous by American Idol winner and country superstar, Carrie Underwood. I am a big fan of Carrie, so I spent about an hour in Checotah, taking pictures of all the sites she sung about in her song “Ain’t in Checotah anymore.” I’m a geek.
I passed a sign that said Troy Aikmen was from Henryetta, OK… but… who cares?
I noted two more things about my drive through Oklahoma. First,
Main Street in Checotah
"Where 69 meets 40, there's a single-stop light town"
they have a lot of Walmarts in this state; second, the highway is a graveyard of sorts. Dead tire shrapnel litters the highway and calls for some strategic driving. Sadly, many of my favorite creature, the Armadillo, has waddled its last waddle on the Oklahoma highway. I have yet to see a living armadillo. I will make that a quest on this trip.
When I crossed from Oklahoma into Arkansas, the first thing I noticed was the police presence. So far, I have seen very few police cars on this journey… maybe two. I have pretty much driven within five miles of the speed limit…(gotta love old age) and have been on a paranoid lookout. The moment I crossed into Arkansas, I saw more popo than dead armadillos. Aside from the police, I liked the bushy-tree lined roads and the little horse or cow farms scattered along the roadside. There was the occasional creek, but mostly green with a very humid, cloudy skyline.
My only stop in Arkansas was Little Rock, home of Central High School and the Clinton Presidential Library. Central High was a hotbed of racial tension when nine African American students integrated the school after
the Supreme Court outlawed segregation in public education. It was a nationally recognized school in 1957; built in 1929 for $1.5 million tax dollars (as opposed to Dunbar, the $400,000, privately funded, African-American high school in the area).
Of the Little Rock Nine, I connect most with Elizabeth Eckford who, when attempting to enter the school, was separated from the others and faced a mob of racists and reporters. Governor Faubus had ordered the National Guard to block all blacks from entering, and 16-year-old Elizabeth was left to fend for herself. Upon arriving into town, I drove straight to Central High to see the façade of the school that is so apart of my history curriculum. It was quiet this Sunday in August, but I was able to replay the newsreels in my mind and see Elizabeth’s history. I stood where the guards raised their bayonets in her young and scared face. I walked her walk—minus the jeers, threats and name-calling. My face was dampened only by the heat of the day, rather than the hurled spit of an angry crowd. My legs did not shake.
The museum across the street was closed, so I returned the next
In Front of Central High School
Integrated by the Little Rock Nine in 1957
morning when it opened. Just my luck!!! There was a pack of teachers with a scheduled, private tour of the high school (usually the inside of the school is unavailable). They allowed me to tag along and I was able to see where history unfolded. The tour guide provided so many more details that I can’t wait to add to my curriculum. These were places I only imagined from the stories I teach, like the cafeteria where Minnie Jean Brown dumped chili on the head of a boy that was taunting her. I knew she was expelled, but I thought it was because of the chili incident. Turns out, Minnie was given a one strike rule. Some of the white girls found out about that and filled a purse full of locks and hit her in the head with it. She snatched the purse from them and called them “poor white trash.” A teacher overheard and reported Minnie Jean to the principal. She was not only expelled from Central High, but from all state high schools. Cards were made that read “One down, eight to go.” Later interviews with some of the bullies revealed that they especially targeted Minnie Jean
Starting the guided tour of Central High
Our park ranger, since the HS has been declared a National Park
because she walked the halls like she belonged there. I walked those some halls and felt like I belonged there too.
The other place I wanted to see in Little Rock was the Clinton Presidential library. The only other presidential library I have visited is Nixon’s in Yorba Linda. Aesthetically, I thought the Clinton library was a pretty ugly building. It is built near the bridge on the river and is supposed to look like a bridge itself: a bridge to the future. It is three stories.
The first floor is mostly security and an info desk, although I thought the presidential limousine was kinda cool. There is a 16 minute film that highlights his life and career. Hillary is a very key player in the film and her presence and involvement in his presidency is evident throughout the entire museum.
The second floor highlights the foreign and domestic policies and successes of his eight year presidency. This includes a double aisle of enclaves about crime, the environment, foreign diplomacy, education, NAFTA, Bosnia/Kosovo, etc. There is significant promotion of his balanced budget and economic surplus… the only president in my lifetime to boast this accomplishment. One area
The Little Rock Nine
A display inside the school display cabinet
was devoted to Hillary’s involvement, especially her attempts to fix and expand national health care. I especially liked the section showcasing personal notes/letters written to the first family from celebrities and world leaders. Some ones I can remember include The Dalai Lama, John John, Dom Deloise, Paul Newman, Sheryl Crow and Mr. Rogers.
The third floor was the fun floor; the personality, social life and humor of the Clinton family. There were outfits from parties, clips of Clinton jokes at addresses and him playing the saxophone… stuff like that.
I think the Clinton’s presidency is pretty interesting and fun cuz it’s sprinkled with scandal. The library addresses the impeachment on a timeline that cuts through the entire second floor. It is a timeline of his entire presidency and notes important dates related to the hearings. Clinton’s sexcapades were not mentioned in the library, and I don’t remember seeing pictures, or even mention of Monica Lewinsky. The blue dress was definitely NOT on display.
I wanted to experience a taste of Little Rock night life, but being Sunday, it was Dead Dead DEAD. Downtown was a ghost town and nothing seemed to be happening anywhere. I did go
Dunbar High School
The African American High School before Integration
to one bar, which had a handful of a crowd, and sat in a corner writing my travel journal. Throughout the night, I met two locals, the first one being Bud. We had a good chat. Then I thought I was being punked when the other local introduced himself as Buddy. So as far as I am concerned, everyone in Arkansas is named some derivative of Bud. Buddy was pretty funny and taught me some important rules of southern drawl. The most important rule is to drop the “g” from all words ending in “ing”. I haven’t been usin this as much as I could, but it’s startin to kick in. Buddy also taught me a few words and phrases: Fixin-
Getting ready to do something. Ex)
to square dance. Stove up-
Body stiffness/soreness. Ex)
Since my cliff divin accident I have been stove up
. Cooter Brown-
A very drunk person (usu. seen in the phrase "drunker than Cooter Brown.") Ex)
Bud was drunker than Cooter Brown
, drinkin that moonshine like it was fixin to go out of style.
I definitely think drunker than Cooter Brown should be a phrase we use a little more
Clinton Presidential Library
The bridge to the future
(there was also an Elvis exhibit going on there)
often in California.
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