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History Students Create Museum Exhibits

12/5/2011

Rachel Looney with her display about Walnut Ridge newspaper editor James L. Bland.

Students at Williams Baptist College have spent the semester combing through local photographs, documents and artifacts from the 1940s to discover a surprising local history of World War II. Their findings will be on display Friday, Dec. 9, as they present their temporary exhibit at Wings of Honor Museum from 7:00 to 8:00 p.m.

The students' work in primary sources collections in northeast Arkansas and throughout the state has helped them create a wide range of museum projects on the experiences of Arkansans during World War II.

The majority of exhibits focus on local history during the war. Rachel Looney, a senior from Walnut Ridge, researched and created an exhibit on James L. Bland's work at the Lawrence County Times-Dispatch during the war. "My research on Mr. Bland has shown me what life was like in a small town during the war," Looney explained. "Mr. Bland was confronting many major issues in town, while also trying to keep a business running."

Dances helped entertain the troops stationed in northeast Arkansas, as Stephanie Robinett, a senior from Pocahontas, discovered. "I learned that the USO held dances in different locations, such as the Walnut Ridge Fire Department and the Randolph County Court House," said Robinett. Her exhibit features newspaper clippings and photographs of dances held in northeast Arkansas during the war.

The work of two students highlights the role that Arkansas women played in the war effort. Morgan Law, a junior from Pocahontas, and Karisa Hendrix, a junior from Cherokee Village, built exhibits on the Lawrence County Women's Home Demonstration Club, a local farming and home educational organization.

Law's and Hendrix's exhibits feature 1940s-era club records, memorabilia, and photographs of Lawrence County women. "Through this project I have learned that these women fought the war alongside the men just in a different way," Law explained. "Their influence is extremely important in the war."

Other exhibits highlight interesting and less well known aspects of Arkansas and the war. Chad Broadway, a senior from Little Rock, investigated the role of boxing in the war. "There were numerous boxing clubs before the war and the men that went off to fight continued boxing in the military," Broadway said.

Visitors on Friday night will find other exhibits on topics related to Arkansans during the war, all of which are based on actual artifacts, photographs, and documents from period. Included are Arkansas-focused exhibits on changes in women's clothing styles, the work of Baptist churches, rationing, war bond drives, souvenirs brought home by soldiers, Japanese-American internment camps, and letters and postcards mailed from servicemen back home to Arkansas.

The students did some of their research and presented their final projects at the Wings of Honor Museum, which commemorates the history of the flying school. The museum is located at Walnut Ridge Regional Airport.

The flying school trained some 5,000 pilots during World War II, and the Williams campus now sits on part of the former base. So, Daniel Spillman of the WBC history faculty decided to have his Arkansas history class focus of the WRAFS for a major project this semester.

"It helps students to study in a creative way that they enjoy, and it also highlights our rich local history," said Spillman. "I think it's important for them to see that what happened here made a difference in the war effort around the world. Some of the men who trained here later flew important missions over Germany."

Spillman also expressed his gratitude for Harold Johnson, who is head of the museum's board of directors. "It was an absolute pleasure to work with Mr. Johnson. He was enormously helpful to the students in finding primary documents about the air field."

"This project provided students a great opportunity to learn about Arkansas and our local communities during the war, and by partnering with Mr. Johnson and his museum it allows students and the community to discover some of the wonderful work being done year-round by the folks at the Wings of Honor museum to preserve our local history," explained Spillman.

The presentation Friday night is free of charge, and the public is encouraged to attend. The Wings of Honor Museum is located east of the WBC campus at 70 South Beacon Road in Walnut Ridge.

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