A Piece of History is Lost
edited: Sunday, December 16, 2001
By Kimberley J. Wilson
Posted: Sunday, December 16, 2001
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A Black historic site was destroyed to make way for the Clinton library.
The Choctaw Terminal Freight Depot in Little Rock, Arkansas was demolished in November. That’s sad but I’ll explain why a little later. What is even sadder is that outside of Arkansas I doubt is more than a few black people around the country have even heard of it.
The Depot was built in 1889, by former slaves and according to Little Rock preservationist Gregory
Ferguson, the depot "was probably one of the most integrated places in the city of Little Rock at the
turn of the century." I don’t know how many black historically important sites have survived in Arkansas but since so little of our history has been preserved every single site is precious.
In my strongly preservation minded home town, which attracts a significant number of history loving tourists, the Freedmen’s Cemetery was largely destroyed in the 1950s when the City Council allowed a gas station to be built on top of it. The only thing left is the elaborate wrought iron front gate and a few headstones that were right next to it. The gas station is still there and so are over a thousand graves, unmarked and unseen.
During the days of segregation there was simply no respect for black cemeteries or historic sites. But it’s a new era now and we know better now. Right?
Not exactly. The Choctaw Depot The Choctaw Depot, considered a "little jewel" by preservationists due to its historical value and good condition, was demolished to make way for the Presidential Library of former President Bill Clinton. When asked about the Depot Bill Clinton answered that “the building was of no use to anybody.” He made this statement while attending a Congressional Black Caucus dinner. That night he received an award for his achievements on behalf of black Americans. Later that evening he told the audience that he was proud that some people consider him to be Americas “first black president”.
I wish the “first black president” –I’m completely sick of this phrase by the way---could have been better informed about the significance of this site. I wish that someone from the Little Rock NAACP could have had enough pride in their history to speak up for this piece of black heritage. I wish that the destruction of the Choctaw Depot could have made the front pages of the newspapers but instead there was just silence. Would the reaction have been different if the library were being built for Ronald Reagan or George Bush the elder?
Okay, so many of us just love Bill Clinton. Okay, so he had some black people in his cabinet. Okay, so he has an office and eats soul food in Harlem. Does any of this excuse the destruction of a landmark?
If the depot could not have stayed intact on the library grounds why was there no serious study on the feasibility of moving it? That is not as outlandish as it sounds. Several years ago I visited an incredible English manor house that was bought by a wealthy American tourist, dismantled, shipped and completely reassembled in Richmond, Virginia. This house was several hundred years old. Compare that to the depot which was only 103. We’ll never know now if it could’ve been saved.
Asked about what happened with Bill Clinton, former Depot owner Gene Pfeifer - who had the depot taken from him when the city took the property under dubious eminent domain procedures, said he thought Clinton's "judgment is clouded by his private interests."
The black people who built the depot lived in hard times. They had been slaves and were surrounded by a community that despised them and for the most part wished that they were still enslaved. Instead of sitting in despair they pressed on. They took their craftsman skills and built a depot that served Little Rock long after they had all passed away.
Instead of honoring their work by protecting it as a historic landmark it was turned into rubble in order to make way for a presidential library. That’s a shame. The fact that no-one on a national level came to the aid of the local preservationists who tried to save the depot is a bigger one.
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|Reviewed by Paul Kyriazi
|It's sad when any historic stucture or location is destroyed. And important article that makes me think, what happened? Wasn't there any group that could have gotten behind the saving of the depot or is progress just moving too fast now? Concise writting. Just the right length.|
|Reviewed by Allen
|This is a great little known fact.
It's amazing how such information escapes the "main stream" media. It also serves to prove that the only hope that women, people of color, the elderly, and other groups considered marginal by the "main stream", have, to get our issues addressed, lies in our power. WE must do what is necessary to make our agendas important. We must care, before anyone else will, about the issues that affect us. This means WE must do something to make our collective voices heard, such as writing letters, and organizing to put our issues on the agenda of elected officials.
Writers like Ms.Wilson are necessary because they let us know about the issues the issues that affect us.