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.

TOM DAVIES: The Verdict — Inspired By A Young Man Who Loves It Here

This past weekend, while I was shopping at one of the big-box stores in Fargo, I noticed a young black man who appeared to be in his early 20s. This lad was helping everyone within “hello” distance and had a smile that lit up the room.

I watched him for about 10 minutes. His mood improved my own so much I walked over and struck up a conversation. He told me he was from North Carolina. I asked him how he liked our area, since he was so far from home. He replied without flinching, with that incredible smile going all the time, “I love it here.” I pressed him for his reasoning. He told me the people are warm and friendly; jobs are plentiful; and — most importantly — he loved local law enforcement because when he waves and says “hi,” they wave back.

Perhaps he exaggerated (or maybe not, since I’ve not been to North Carolina), but he implied there wasn’t much communication between the law and people of color in that state — and certainly no small talk. After listening to him, I gained a much better understanding of life in the Deep South from the viewpoint of one individual.

There are those in this community who would not have spoken to this young man under similar circumstances. The sadness of that is it’s hard to understand the lives some have to live if you don’t speak to them.

The young man did not know me from the man in the moon, yet his response was as open and friendly as those from other people of color I’ve met since retiring from the bench. But I’ve also met many young men who have felt the same type of prejudice right here in River City. That’s sad. I’m referring to Native Americans, African-Americans, Asian-Americans and immigrants whose only apparent problem is that they aren’t the same color as we are.

The only color that matters is “red.” We all bleed that color. For my purpose here, that designates what it takes to be an American. What clothing we wear and how we wear our hair (or shave our heads) does not show who we are as a people — just what our individual tastes may be.

I personally don’t care if you believe in God, in Allah, in any other Creator … or don’t believe in the afterlife at all. If you are a good person, live an honest life and treat others as you wish to be treated, you are making this world a better place to live. If ever we’ve needed these types of people, it’s now more than ever.

My conversation with that young man from North Carolina piqued my interest in the state he came from. The North Carolina Legislature has been trying to set the clock back on civil rights. It is particularly active now in the time of President 45, who doesn’t recognize there are three co-equal branches of government. As he systematically tries to destroy the criminal justice system and remake it in his own image and likeness — the courts are once again reminding him and his supporters that this country is governed by the rule of law. God help us if that ever changes.

As in many states, North Carolina’s voter suppression attempts are being stomped on. That state accepted a variety of government-issued photo ID cards — drivers licenses, passports and military ID cards. However, in a not-so-subtle attempt to keep minorities from voting, this state would not accept public assistance card used disproportionately as identification by minorities in North Carolina. Legislators also tried to cut early voting days and end same-day voter registration. There was nothing subtle about their attempts to discourage and limit certain voters. Were it not for the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled against them, they would have succeeded.

It’s one thing to be prosecuted because you have done something wrong. It is quite another to be persecuted because you exist.

Some might say that I take bigotry and prejudice personally because of the legacy of my father, Judge Ronald N. Davies. They’d be partially right. My father turned the spotlight on the problems of bigotry and prejudice for me, and it has never dimmed. I am so proud of that.

* * *

When my wife went to the lake this weekend with one of my daughters, each brought a dog. I stayed home because I was going to (and did) cut and apply weed killer to the lawn. Our dog chews crabgrass like a doper smokes pot, and I didn’t want to take any chances with him getting into the treated lawn. So Maureen will be hearing about my adventures at North Fargo Hornbacher’s for the first time as she reads this column.

Apparently Saturday must have been Tattoo Day for grocery shoppers there. One young lady was showing off some writing and some kind of picture emblazoned just above her (slightly exposed) boob line. At my age, the body parts were of no interest. But as I tried to glimpse what the writing said, this lady— not a teenager, but in her 40s or 50s — looked me right in the eye and said, “Do you like what you see?”

With the speed of light. I replied, “Don’t flatter yourself, I wouldn’t have to squint if the print was as large as you-know-what.”

That was not the end of my violating social taboos. In front of me in the checkout line was another woman, a younger one, with an exposed back. I looked away at something as she stood there talking to her friend. When I glanced back, her tattoo caught my eye — it looked just like a real spider. I let out a whoop and a holler and jumped back before I realized what I was looking at. I had to explain to the startled teen how I am deathly afraid of spiders. I don’t think she, the clerk or the others who witnessed the event stopped laughing until after I’d left the store.

* * *

Here’s a special shout-out to Justin Benson, Erik Benson and my grandson, Rhys Luger, for becoming Eagle Scouts at the Boy Scouts of America Troop 214 ceremony on Mother’s Day. Until I saw the list of accomplishments required to earn this honor, I had no idea of the dedication each of these young men demonstrated to achieve his goal.

There is no doubt in my mind these young men will succeed in life. Their achievement is also a testament to their parents who supported them. Awesome job, young men! Amen.