A friend of The Observer’s who is a member of WAND (Women’s Action for New Directions) spent her Fourth of July on the deck of the USS Razorback at a fund-raiser for the Beacon of Peace and Hope to be placed near the sub on the North Little Rock shore. She sent a present tense narrative of how it felt to spend Independence Day on a vessel that had sunk enemy ships in the Pacific during World War II.

“Every once in awhile through the hum of conversation I hear the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra across the river playing rousing patriotic music. The music comes and goes almost like we are hearing it over a fading short-wave radio. That must have been how sound was heard on this submarine for many years. I wonder how this old girl is feeling about being at home on a river far, far from any ocean where she had served her working days. I imagine the fear, anger and anxiety that filled her then. Does she think that since she is no longer at war or preparing for war that wars are done with?

“Today it’s her time to party. She seems relaxed and proud to show off her dents and lumps under a fresh coat of shiny black paint. Earlier, before the sun set, I had admired how bright she looked with several blue and white ‘wage peace’ signs propped against her upper deck. The shine of her paint and the shine of the signs matched perfectly as if made for each other.

“Suddenly through the dark come several ear-shattering boom, boom, booms. I jump in surprise and I think I feel the submarine give a shudder. Bombs bursting in air! A big sigh floats through the crowd. No bombs, just the echo of the sounds from beautiful fireworks we were expecting.”

When alumni of Scipio A. Jones High meet in Little Rock July 19, they’ll hear a talk about a famous North Little Rock black jockey who remains the youngest rider on a winner in the Kentucky Derby.

At age 15, “Lonnie” Clayton rallied Azra to victory by a nose in the 1892 Kentucky Derby. He captured the Churchill Downs jockey crown in 1893, and rode Laureate, winner of the 1895 Arkansas Derby at Clinton Park in Little Rock. He is one of only three African Americans to ride in the Preakness, finishing third in 1896.

History Commission researcher Cary Bradburn supplied some details: Clayton’s family settled at Brushy Island in 1890 and with his winnings built a Queen Anne style house at 2105 Maple Street in 1895, north of Argenta and across the street from the all-black Jackson Park Elementary.

The Engelberger House, as the Queen Anne is now known, still stands; the names of Clayton and his eight siblings, as well as “Mama and Papa Clayton,” are written in pencil in the attic. There is also a drawing in the attic of what appears to be a jockey.

Clayton sold the Queen Anne house in 1900. It’s said he left his home because of racial prejudice; yet he lived in an African American neighborhood. Clayton ran into financial trouble after his racing career declined in the late 1890s. By the early 1900s, the major stables and race tracks began excluding black jockeys.

Curtis Sykes, who graduated from Jones in 1947, and Grif Stockely, author of “Blood In Their Eyes: The Elaine Race Massacres of 1919,” will preside over the seminar at 3 p.m. July 21 at the Wyndham Riverfront Hotel. The theme of the reunion is “The Structure Is Gone — The Memory Lives On.”

The Observer, heading for a step class at the War Memorial Fitness Center, noticed in the room next to the gym three men in martial arts garb. The Observer knew two of the men — Doug Gorrell and Aj Smith. Gorrell is an impressionist painter of tender landscapes. Smith is known for his larger-than-life portraits in soft, realistic pencil. Sensitive types. Not the kind of men you’d expect to see engaged in combat. Artists, but martial artists?

What they were doing was Chayon-Ryu, the Natural Way, Smith explained later. We couldn’t help but ask — does it make you a better artist? “I like to think it helps my sense of discipline,” Smiths said, both mental and physical. It’s about “commitment and dedication.”

It brings mind and body together, he added; it’s a martial art that helps practitioners refrain from combat. Sounds like something we could all use.



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