Historical entertainment planned for joint celebration of three Southwest Arkansas milestone anniversaries
When the 1999 tornado swept through the homes at Cross and West 28th Street, windows were blown out, trees fell and roofs were damaged. The unoccupied house at 1207 W. 28th St. fell victim both to the weather and thieves, who pulled up to the house and unloaded the furniture into a van and left. That's one story at least.
But it's a fact that there is very little left of L.C. and Daisy Bateses' furnishings for the ranch-style home they built in 1955, just two years before the crisis at Central High made it a headquarters for the desegregation effort. At a long table in the paneled and floored basement, Daisy Bates debriefed the Little Rock Nine every day after school, to learn what hostilities they were enduring. The Nine and Bates were photographed seated on her sectional sofa waiting for school to start, at her dining room table at Thanksgiving. The home is now on the National Register of Historic Places.
Kwendeche, an architectural design consultant who has worked with the L.C. and Daisy Bates Museum Foundation for the past three years to restore the Bateses home (thanks to a $75,000 grant from the AT&T Foundation), gave The Observer a tour on Monday, a couple of days before the Museum was to celebrate its grand opening on Nov. 11, what would have been Daisy Bates' 95th birthday.
With the help of those famous photos and other archival shots made at the house during and after the crisis, Kwendeche has made the Bateses life three-dimensional again. There's the sectional sofa, the driftwood lamp, the andirions in the decorative fireplace. Some of the acquisitions have been pricey, like the period Heywood Wakefield dining and side tables like the ones Bates used. Some of the furniture — like the matching chairs for the original dinette table found in the Bateses' backyard and the vintage refrigerator to match Daisy Bates' yellow GE oven and push-button-controlled stove top — came from Texas, where Kwendeche explored miles of antique and thrift stores. Sometimes, he's paid nothing: community activist Annie Abrams summoned him to pick up a 1940s radio console and phonograph that she saw a man was toss out on the street. A quarter-sawn oak chest also found in the street is now in the guest room where Martin Luther King slept.
Some artifacts Kwendeche has found in the basement — lamps, a birdcage, the frame of a chair. Molds that Daisy Bates used in her hobby of firing ceramics. Asphalt tiles leftover from the original roof. The colors of the new paint on the walls — an aqua green in the living room and den and the pink of the bedrooms — were chosen by Becky Rogers Witsell, a preservationist/forensic artist who scraped behind switch plates and such to determine the original tints.
Neighbors — who include Thelma Mothershed, one of the Nine, have watched over the home and given Kwendeche pointers on what life was like when the Bateses were both still alive and in the home, he says. One neighbor is letting the museum park her 1958 car in the driveway for the opening.
Park Service historical architect Mark Chavez, who visited Bates' house with Kwendeche, suggested he visit Harry Truman's home in Independence, Mo., to see how that museum was done.
The result: As in Truman's home, there won't be any tags or interpretive panels on the walls informing of the significance of the TV where Daisy Bates watched Faubus or the window that the rock was tossed through. The home will tell the story of how Daisy Bates fixed her home life around her. Docents giving the tours will be the ones to fill in the blanks: Here's where the Bateses met with Thurgood Marshall, here's where the Nine sat, here's the Bateses bedrooms, yes they slept in separate twin beds.
The home is a work in progress. Soon, it's hoped, the old television set can be fixed to run video of news clips from the era. In the distant future, the foundation hopes to raise enough money to provide a more traditional civil rights museum, with videos and photographs and documents relating to Daisy Bates, in the basement of the home. Maybe even put a kiln back in and make new ceramics from Daisy Bates' molds to sell. Think of that when you're asked for a $25 tax-deductible donation to tour the house.
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