Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

"I'll Build You a City": An Interview with Casey Laman

Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

"I'll Build You a City": An Interview with Casey Laman

Article excerpt

THE FOLLOWING INTERVIEW, conducted with one of the more vivid figures in Arkansas s urban history, reads like a how-to guide for running a town. William F. "Casey " Laman served as North Little Rock's mayor between 1958 and 1972 and again in 1979-80, presiding over "Dog Town s " metamorphosis into a city. Streets were paved, utilities improved, and public facilities constructed on a mass scale. His administration built fire stations, an airport, new libraries and hospitals, high-rise public housing for the elderly, as well as one of the largest municipal parks in the nation. As the interview suggests, Mayor Laman would be the last to deny that he was a controversial figure. Some complained of the price tag attached to his citybuilding. North Little Rock accrued a bonded debt in the millions of dollars, and by the mid-1960s its budget exceeded that of its more populous neighbor, Little Rock. Others protested that urban renewal projects had uprooted poor and African-American residents and cleared historic portions of the city's downtown. Nevertheless, Laman s accomplishments as a municipal leader have been widely recognized, and honored with awards from many organizations, including the Arkansas Municipal League, the Arkansas Planning Commission, the United States Jaycees, and the Chamber of Commerce.

Roy Reed conducted this interview on June 14, 2001, for the Arkansas Memories Project at the Pryor Center for Arkansas Oral and Visual History at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. These excerpts are published with the kind permission of the Pryor Center. A transcript of the complete interview is available at the center's website: http://libinfo.uark.edu/SpecialCollections/pryorcenter.

Roy Reed: Start at the beginning, Casey. Tell me when you were born.

William F. "Casey" Laman: I was born October 20, 1913, halfway between Jacksonville and Cabot. My dad had a small farm located just about halfway between these two cities on that old gravel road. It was just a rock and gravel country road. War broke out in 1918. Papa came down here to work in Camp Robinson. He drove a jitney. It cost a nickel to ride from Camp Robinson over to Little Rock to Markham and Main. It was Camp Pike then. He drove that, I guess, for a couple of years, and then, finally, we moved down here.

RR: So that's when you all moved to North Little Rock.

WL: That's right. But when he quit driving the jitney-I don't know why-maybe he wasn't making enough, or maybe the war was over and the camp wasn't operating like they had. The next I knew, he was working at night at Missouri-Pacific [Railroad] as a machinist's helper. He worked from 3:00 until 11:00. He held that job until they had the strike, I believe, in 1922. The unions were supposed to get together and the roadmen-the brakemen, conductors, and engineers-were supposed to join the round-house crew-the machinists, helpers and all that-and all of them go out on a strike. Right at the last minute, the roadmen decided they wouldn't go out, but the others did go. Papa went out on strike with them, and, of course, they fought that thing for over a year. They lost the strike because Missouri Pacific brought people in here to take the place of the machinists and helpers. As a side remark, let me make a skip. I was campaigning. I met the union group over in Little Rock off Cantrell Road. It was the painters, plasterers, plumbers-the Consolidated Central Union or something. It was a whole group of trade people. They understood that I was opposed to unions, and I said, "No, I'm not opposed to unions at all." And they said, "Well, we understood that you were against unions. We can't support you if you're against the unions." I said, "Let me tell you something. My dad went out on strike in 1922 to protect this union and he's still on strike. Some of you fellows are sitting here now, and your fathers are scabs they brought in from Georgia and Alabama on trains to take the place of Papa and his friends who went out on strike. …

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