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Big Ideas, Little Rock

We’ve found several good reasons to make a day or weekend trip to Little Rock, Arkansas, this month. And your family will gain some worthy history lessons in the process.

Arkansas’ history is not unlike that of West Tennessee, with its roots in cotton farming, segregation, and soybeans. But there was a three-year period during World War II that was remarkably different. Arkansas became the location for two of 10 relocation camps the U.S. government built to house Japanese Americans. Considered a threat to national security, more than 120,000 Japanese from the West Coast — most of whom were second-generation Americans — were banished to isolated camps across the West.
The two relocation centers went up quickly in the rural towns of Rohwer and Jerome, Arkansas. Together, they housed more than 15,000 people from 1942 to 1945.

To learn more, pay a visit to The Butler Center for Arkansas Studies. There the exhibit, The Art of the Living - Japanese American Creative Experience at Rohwer, reveals a fascinating array of art objects created by the Japanese-American detainees. The material survived thanks to Memphian Jamie Vogel, an art teacher who worked at the camp and saved the art as well as everyday papers reflecting life at camp. Because supplies at camp were so spartan, much of the artwork was made of found objects — paintings on denim and burlap, belts made of electrical wire, zori sandals woven from grass, and detailed bird pins, carved and painted with wonderful detail.

“The work is heartbreaking and uplifting at the same time,” notes Butler Center Director David Stricklin. “It reflects the triumph of the human spirit.”

Local Artisans
While at the Butler, be sure to visit their extensive art gallery, which features sculpture, paintings, and jewelry by artists from around the state. Just across the street is River Market, an indoor bazaar with shopping and food kiosks galore. I always grab lunch next door, at Boulevard Bread Company, where handmade breads and wonderfully fragrant soups never fail to satisfy.

Presidential Stories
At the end of Clinton Avenue is the impressive William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum, where you can view presidential documents, photographs, exhibits, and gifts Bill and Hilary Clinton received during their eight years in the White House. Podcasts provide interesting narratives about points of historic significance during Clinton’s administration.

Finally, be sure to enjoy the city’s scenic River Walk. Similar to our Bluff Walk, this walkway parallels the Arkansas River and provides panoramic views of downtown. After being indoors, kids will enjoy the scenery and exercise.

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