TOM DAVIES: The Verdict — Memories Of Dad’s Days In Little Rock

Most children miss their deceased fathers, especially around Father’s Day. Like them, I miss my dad, Judge Ronald N. Davies. I was sorting through some papers and came across an article by his court reporter and secretary, the late Zona A. McArthur. To my knowledge, this personal account has never been published before. If you like history, you may enjoy it.

Who Reported It?

By Zona A. McArthur

It was in 1957, a long time ago, but a time in history that held a unique experience for me.

It began with the assignment of United States District Judge Ronald N. Davies of Fargo, North Dakota, to Little Rock, Arkansas. Judge Davies had been sworn in on August 16, 1955, and I became his official court reporter less than a week later. In those days in less populated districts, the court reporter also acted as the judge’s secretary, so I went along to Little Rock.

When we arrived in Little Rock during the latter part of August, it seemed to me that no one was expecting us. As a matter of fact, the clerk of court was on vacation, and no calendar was ready.

Judge Davies began hearing matters on Aug. 29. The next day, among other cases, he heard the matter of John Aaron, et al, versus William G. Cooper and the Little Rock Independent School District, a corporation, et al. Six attorneys appeared. Then the chaos began.

A transcript was requested of the judge’s order. I prepared one, with a good many copies. The deputy United States marshal stood outside my door to hand the transcript to news reporters. They literally grabbed it and ran to write their stories.

During this period, I was greeted by a host of newsmen every morning. Finally, a deputy United States marshal was more or less permanently stationed at my door. Thereafter, the only — for lack of a better word — “static” I got was from the long-distance telephone operators. I had been told not to put through any long-distance calls to the judge, and this upset the operators.

At one point, the bailiff came in with a huge stack of mail for Judge Davies. He said they had been holding the mail in the clerk’s office because it might hurt the judge’s feelings. Judge Davies was given this mail, and thereafter similar stacks of uncomplimentary and sometimes threatening mail came in for him on a daily basis.

Judge Davies had indicated early on that it was not necessary to provide him with protection from the marshal’s office. However, after Judge Davies had read the mail and also upon the insistence of the United States marshal that it was his duty to protect him, Judge Davies accepted protection and was guarded day and night.

Of course, Judge Davies heard other matters in addition to the school desegregation case. But, as you can imagine, the halls and courtroom were packed and the atmosphere tense during those particular hearings.

There were, of course, many members of the out-of-town news media present. Toward the end of this matter, those media representatives came around wearing red ribbons, which they said were battle ribbons for serving in the “Battle of Little Rock.”

On a day when Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus was flying to a meeting of governors, President Eisenhower took over the Arkansas National Guard. When the governor left his airplane, he was interviewed about this on television. He said that, like General MacArthur, he had been relieved of his command.

Later on, I sat in my hotel room one evening watching the news and was relieved to see a caravan of covered trucks coming across the bridge into Little Rock. The 101st Airborne had arrived.

I felt lucky to be staying in a hotel about six blocks from the courthouse. After all, sometimes the only exercise a court reporter gets is by walking to and from work. None of the employees at this hotel knew what my job was. In fact, one waitress who thought she did said, “I know who you are. You’re a magazine writer.” Anyone reading this article can easily tell I am not a magazine writer.

At any rate, I did not bother to enlighten her. For several years while I was freelancing, I had lived in the South and been the beneficiary of some of the fine hospitality for which this area of the country is famous. So, having lived in this area, I was aware of local feelings and customs. I tried to maintain as low a profile as possible.

However, Judge Davies stayed at the hotel directly across the street from the courthouse and was under constant guard. Of course everyone knew who he was. How he ever managed to maintain his excellent sense of humor through this whole ordeal, I will never know. I never heard him express any rancor. In fact, he told me he would like to go back to Little Rock someday so he could see the city in the daylight. He said he was sure it was a beautiful city, but the only time he had gotten to see it was at night, “with the marshals riding shotgun.”

I know this experience is one I will never forget, but I doubt if I would “volunteer” for another like it.

*  * *

Zona was most protective of my dad. As any lawyer and members of the media will affirm, to get through to Judge Davies, you had to go through Zona first. If you didn’t have a good reason, you didn’t get by her.

When they first arrived in Little Rock and saw it was not, legally speaking, a safe place to be, Dad told his staff that anyone who wanted to bail and return to North Dakota could. Only his law clerk (not Thomas J. Gaughan) took him up on the offer and went home.

Another reason Judge Davies accepted protection from the marshals was that my mom had told him he would, period. The only person on the planet who could “direct” my father was my mom.

Wow, think for a moment how this case would have been handled by the media if all of the current means of communication had been available then. Amen.

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Tom Davies

Judge Tom Davies wielded the gavel in Fargo's Municipal Court for nearly 40 years, the longest term of any elected official in the city's history, until health problems forced his retirement in 2012. Born in Grand Forks, the UND business and law graduate has lived in Fargo since 1956, when his father, Ronald Davies, was appointed a federal judge. The outspoken, irreverent jurist remains an insatiable consumer of news, sharing his observations in Moorhead's weekly newspaper, The Extra … and now here on the Fish blog. As a child, Davies delivered the Grand Forks Herald and sold them on the street corner.

2 thoughts on “TOM DAVIES: The Verdict — Memories Of Dad’s Days In Little Rock”

  1. Brings back memories- I lived in Grand Forks at the time- not too concerned about the racial tensions at hand- knowing North Dakota conservatism, I’M not sure if the majority was in favor of integration-I can’t help but wonder how the present Supreme Court and our president would react to that situation now- we appreciate what Judge Davies did for civil rights-vern krile

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