Arkansas’s plan to execute eight death row inmates over an 11-day period has generated a lot of attention from around the world. While courts removed two of the men slated to die, international media outlets continue following the story carefully. Shortly after Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen issued a stay for the executions, I reported live on Israeli television network i24NEWS to discuss the latest. You can find a link to watch the broadcast here. I mentioned in the interview that we were still waiting for a ruling from a federal judge, and that ended up coming down the next morning, also staying the executions. The state is now appealing those decisions.
There was a lot of uncertainty when we recorded AETN’s “Arkansas Week” on Friday, April 14. As the state prepared to carry out an unprecedented seven executions over an 11-day period, there was a flurry of legal filings and decisions that were about to come down. A four-day federal court hearing had just wrapped up the night before, but no verdict issued yet, and the rapid pace of the lethal injections was drawing media attention from around the world. I took part in that week’s panel discussion joined by UCA political science Professor Heather Yates and Blytheville Courier News Editor Tom Henry.
A huge project which has dominated much of my free time over the last two years has been preparing a new book for Arcadia Publishing called Rock Island Railroad in Arkansas, which is part of its Images of Rail series. The book is a collection of mostly vintage photographs of the railroad taken around the state and was officially released on April 3. It’s available at major bookstores in Arkansas, or can be ordered online. I’m excited that my first lecture on the subject was Tuesday, April 4, at the Clinton School of Public Service, which is housed in the 118-year-old building that for much of its existence was the Little Rock passenger station for the Rock Island. Click here to find a link to watch a video of my presentation, learn more about the book, where to purchase it, or find when and where I’ll be taking part in future lectures or book signings.
I’ve been researching the Rock Island off and on for 29 years, recording interviews with former employees, visiting locations in the state that were once used by the railroad, and most recently, got access to the files of former Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton who was in his first term in office when the Rock Island was shut down in 1980. I plan to get many of those documents posted in the coming year to offer a different perspective on what a crisis this was for the state. About 700 people worked for the railroad in Arkansas at the time, and there were then efforts to try and get a new railroad to buy the former trackage, much of which ended up being removed.
But in the short term, my next project concerning the railroad is producing a podcast series using audio of interviews I’ve recorded with more than 20 people over the years, most former employees, to give a firsthand account of life working for the Rock Island and the impact its shutdown had on the state. Look for the first episode in the coming weeks. I expect I’ll probably produce about 10 to 15 episodes in the coming months.