Occasionally a Yankee moves to Arkansas who is smart and brave enough to work hard to improve our state. One of them was Dr. Dave Luck, who died at age 79 last week. A physician, he recognized the state’s greatest needs – education and fairness – and worked for them in his hometown of Arkadelphia and statewide.
It was Luck who was the chairman of the coalition that finally persuaded Arkansans to vote for an amendment that removed the poll tax that kept many blacks and poor people from voting. It had been in our state Constitution (and in four other Southern states) for 45 years.
But Luck’s main goal was for more kids to get college degrees. He spent 12 years on the Henderson State University board and 13 years on the state Board of Higher Education. Despite the criticism he received from legislators and college presidents he spoke and even wrote a book common-sensibly saying what should be done:
Small college classes should be eliminated … Every college ought to specialize, and one should specialize in technology … Two-year colleges with fewer than 1,000 students must merge with another one … Consolidate at least 100 small school districts … Set up a statewide tutoring program from kindergarten to college, using mostly successful students as teachers … The state should resist any efforts to bring professional schools to Arkansas to compete with our colleges … Legislators must quit fighting the Board of Higher Education and going after funds just for institutions in their districts … Some penalty should be given to superintendents and school districts that have too many children requiring remediation, and rewards should be given to districts with less remediation.
Dr. Luck’s book is called “Higher Education in Arkansas.” The legislators who went into session this week ought to get a copy.
Just for fun, take a look at what has changed in the United States and Arkansas in the 100 years that slipped away Dec. 31.
In 1904, New Mexico, Arizona, Alaska, Oklahoma and Hawaii were not yet states. Of the 45 states, 17 of them had fewer people than Arkansas. Now that there are 50 states, 19 states are smaller than Arkansas. It’s interesting that in 1904, California had only 173,000 more people than Arkansas, and today it has 28 million more.
In 1904 there were already 30,000 trolley cars and 15,000 miles of track. We got rid of ours in Little Rock and North Little Rock. But what do you know? They are back.
North Little Rock slipped away from Little Rock in 1904, but in 2004 it slipped below Fayetteville, becoming the state’s fourth largest city.
By the end of 1904, there were 13,824 automobiles on American roads. There were about 50 in Arkansas – 15 in Little Rock, 12 in Hot Springs, six in Texarkana, and one each in Mabelvale, Helena, Stuttgart, etc. Soon there were 300 in Little Rock. One of the most popular cars was the Pope Toledo, which cost about $650. Top speed limit was 20 miles an hour.
A hundred years ago you could buy a bicycle for $11.75, a Coca-Cola for 5 cents, washing machines for $4.15, a 14 karat, gold-filled wedding ring for 95 cents.
It was so cold in Arkansas in 1904 the Arkansas River was frozen over. Despite the cold weather, the state’s very first successful rice crop was produced in Hazen. Also, a total of 931,000 bales of cotton were produced that year. However, in 2004 Arkansas cotton farmers produced 2,050,000 bales, a record for Arkansas. There were 179,000 farms in Arkansas in 1904, only 48,000 in 2004. But the 1904 farms covered only 14,891 acres while the farms in 2004 covered 303,000 acres.
For relaxation in 1904 you could see the silent movie “A Trip to the Moon” for 5 cents at the Capital Picture Show on Markham Street in Little Rock. But we aren’t so relaxed these days because in 2004 it cost $6 to go to a movie, not counting the popcorn.
Now our presidents are paid $400,000 a year, plus expense accounts. A hundred years ago, the pay was $50,000. That’s when ordinary federal employees made $971 a year. Arkansas governors now receive $77,000 and live in a beautiful state mansion. In 1904 the pay was $3,000 a year and the governor had to find his own housing.
Diamond cutters making $21.68 a week might have been the best-paid workers in 1904. (Incidentally, the diamond mine in Murfreesboro — the only one in the U.S. — was discovered in 1905.) Most barbers were getting $18 a week. Teachers got $377 a year, a salesman could count on $3 to $15 a week.
The legislature voted early in 1905 to build a new State Capitol and was told it would cost $947,000 to replace the one on Markham Street. It wasn’t finished until 1914 and the cost came to $2.5 million.
A hundred years ago the expectation of life was 46.2 years for males, 49.1 for women. In 2004 it was 74.7 years for men, 79.9 for women. That ought to make everybody happy.