Wednesday, August 22, 2007
My Day At The Clinton Presidential Center
As a history junkie I've always loved presidential libraries. The Carter Center is on my must see list next time I drive down to the ATL. Next time I go back home I'm thinking about making the run up to Aggieland and checking out the George HW Bush one on the Texas A&M campus.
My grandmother Tama took me and my brother during the summer of 1977 on a bus trip with her church group to see the LBJ Ranch in Stonewall, TX and the LBJ Presidential Library 30 miles to the east in Austin on the University of Texas campus. It was an all day excursion that I enjoyed, especially when the shuttle took us over a hill that gave us an awe inspiring view of the Texas Hill Country. I remember saying to my grandmother at the time, "No wonder LBJ loved this place."
I was even happier when we arrived at the library and I got a chance to check out the memorabilia from the LBJ presidency, take pictures on the museum grounds and see the nearby state capitol dome before we boarded the bus for the two hour run back to Houston.
In November 2006 I drove the 800 plus miles from Da Ville to Dallas so that I could attend my cousin William's November 11 wedding. My route took me through Little Rock and past the Clinton Presidential Center all lit up in its nighttime splendor and I resolved to check it out on the way back.
On the return trip as soon as I crossed the Arkansas-Texas border I stopped at the welcome center just outside of Texarkana. You pick up a red 'William J. Clinton Passport' that you get stamped at the various places you visit on the presidential tour. Three of the locations, his birthplace in Hope, the boyhood and teen home in Hot Springs and the museum in Little Rock were on or close to I-30. Fayetteville, (or as we called it when I was at UH in the old Southwest Conference days 'Fayettenam') was in the upper northwest corner of the state close to the Missouri line and not on the agenda.
Twenty five miles later I was exiting I-30 and heading toward downtown Hope, President Clinton's birthplace. There's an old Missouri Pacific railroad station that has been renovated into a museum. It has some memorabilia from the time he grew up there, the '92 and '96 presidential campaigns and his time as governor of Arkansas. It even has pictures of a concert that Elvis Presley did in Hope before he made it big and a large collection of railroad memorabilia.
After you see a short film on their favorite son's life, you start a self guided driving tour that takes you past his birth home on South Hervey Street, Brookwood Elementary school on South Spruce Street that he attended in 1952-1953, the home he lived in on East 13th Street until his family moved to Hot Springs in 1953 and the Rosehill Cemetery where his mother is buried. I spent an hour and a half taking pictures, spending time at the various tour stops and meandering through Hope before I pointed the car back in the direction of I-30 and headed toward Little Rock. I burned so much time in Hope that in order to get to the museum before it closed at 5 PM I reluctantly had to bypass Hot Springs.
I hit Little Rock around 1:15 PM and after jumping off Exit 140 parked on the large parklike site of the Clinton Presidential Center. It's a three story building right next to the Arkansas River that looks like a futuristic unfinished bridge, a play on the 'Bridge to the 21st Century' theme of his presidency. On the site is a renovated railroad station that serves as the repository for his presidential papers. The gift shop is a free shuttle trolley ride just up President Clinton Avenue in downtown Little Rock.
I noticed when I parked the car there was a convoy of TV trucks in the lot and parked close to the building along with two black limos. I found out why about thirty minutes later. The museum was packed with tour groups. Many of us there that day were still in post-2006 election euphoria. I gave a shout out to a group of my mom and sister's sorors who were touring that day along with other groups of African-Americans.
I spent most of my visit happily perusing the various interactive exhibits, the memorabilia and reflecting on just how jacked up this Bush presidency was compared to the Clinton one. I was on the third floor looking at a temporary exhibit of cowboy movie posters and a hand drawn picture of the 'High Noon' gunfight scene by a young Bill Clinton when a young woman excitedly shouted, "He's here!"
"Who's here?" I asked.
"The president is here!"
That news traveled through the museum with lightning speed and triggered a rush of museum patrons to the lower levels of the building. It was the reason the TV trucks were there. I discovered after I quickly ambled from the third floor of the building to standing outside the Great Hall and talking to one of the museum employees that Salon.com was having a luncheon event that day (November 13) in which Brother Bill was speaking. I stood outside along with the other museum patrons hoping that we'd get a chance to see him and shake his hand when he was done, but the Secret Service had other ideas.
After hopping the trolley and grabbing some souvenirs at the gift shop I headed back to Louisville. The next time I'm in the area I'm definitely stopping by there again. The museum was definitely worth the $7 I paid to get in and was a positive, uplifting way to spend a day. Many of the conversations I had with folks from all over the country that day expressed our common desire and resolve to bring that type of forward thinking leadership back to the White House and our country.
I can only hope and pray that next year the rest of the country is hungry for that type of leadership as well.