History worth preserving


Friday afternoon I drove up to Little Rock to accept an award for "Outstanding Preservation Reporting in the Media" from Preserve Arkansas on behalf of News-Times reporter Tia Lyons. Tia has worked for the News-Times for decades and has done a tremendous job covering our city, including our historic district commission, whose own efforts are worth supporting and celebrating. We're lucky to have her. For those who couldn't make it, the El Dorado City Council will present the award to Tia at its regularly scheduled meeting this upcoming Thursday.

William Hawkins and Dr. John Wheeler of Camden also received the "Outstanding Achievement in Preservation Advocacy Award" for their efforts to "list the Washington Street Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places and further preservation efforts in downtown Camden."

The event was held at the governor's mansion, which is a beautiful residence originally opened in 1950 and since expanded. The building is full of wonderful artwork and sweeping staircases, and it was a privilege to attend. I also met Gov. Asa Hutchinson for the first time. He asked me and Mayor Veronica Smith-Creer about the census efforts here in El Dorado — ensuring an accurate count for the 2020 census is incredibly important for Union County and Arkansas as a whole, as everything from legislative representation to federal tax dollars are tied to the census.

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The event also highlighted some tremendous efforts around the state to preserve and celebrate history. Tourism, according to Gov. Hutchinson, is one of the largest industries in Arkansas, and historic preservation efforts are effective at attracting out-of-state visitors to Arkansas.

Impressive winners included the Hotel Hale in Hot Springs, winner of "Excellence in Preservation through Rehabilitation;" The Paint Factory in Little Rock, winner of "Outstanding Achievement in Adaptive Reuse — Large Scale Development;" and Parker Westbrook Award for Lifetime Achievement winner John P. Gill of Little Rock, who gave a memorable and touching speech about his life, family and work.

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History is important — our own family history, the history of our communities, our state, our country, etc. — for a lot of reasons. There's the common proverb, "Those who don't learn history are doomed to repeat it." Gill referenced a similar line of thinking about how if we don't understand where we've come from, we don't know where we're going. As someone who more than occasionally looks back through newspaper archives, it is remarkable how often it appears we're grappling with the same issues, whether they be structural, economic or social in nature.

While many historians reject direct comparisons between the United States and, say, the Roman Empire, there are certainly important truths we can glean from history. The current political turmoil in the United States is not unprecedented. We can look back at our own history at, for instance, the late 1960s and early '70s, and see a country torn apart by the Vietnam War, the civil rights movement and the Nixon presidency — issues that, while not direct parallels for what we're experiencing now, are similar enough to reflect on and learn from.

And while those events changed the country and have long-lasting impacts that we're still feeling today, we, as a country, survived those troubled times. We'll survive these. The Republic will endure. But we'll only learn from this if we pay attention to what's going on, absorb and analyze facts and objective information and stay open-minded. The Senate impeachment trial begins on Tuesday, and while we can't all watch every minute of it, we do need to pay attention. History, for good or ill, is being made.

Caleb Slinkard is the managing editor of the El Dorado News-Times. He previously served as editor of two dailies and four weeklies in Oklahoma and Texas. To contact him, email [email protected].

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