Little Rock ACORN created the Fifteen Street Corporation to buy a building at 523 West 15th in the mid-1970’s, which housed all of the various operations of our family of organizations including not only Arkansas ACORN but also KABF/FM, Local 100, and at various times our training institute, housing corporation, and random tenants. The building’s biggest claim to fame may have been a front page picture in the Washington Post shortly after Bill Clinton’s election to his first term as President where he was bear hugging, Zach Polett, longtime head organizer in Arkansas and ACORN’s national political director. The building was the backdrop for the shot, if you looked closely. Almost 25 years later a larger, more rambling building was bought in 1998 at 2101 South Main Street that had been the law offices of the labor and civil rights firm run by Jim Youngdahl, long a friend, ally, and frequent probono lawyer for several of our operations.
Having been a commuter moving through the vast spaces of the building over the last couple of years checking in with Local 100 and managing KABF and stumbling over our vast stores of dated material and ACORN memorabilia, the Fifteenth Street Corporation has always been yawningly supportive of a notion that we should make a room an ACORN Museum and somehow show what we have to members and others interested in ACORN’s fertile and vibrant history. The designated room is workable enough between the station’s studio and the Local 100 office on the second floor with its biggest obstacle only being that it’s on the second floor. There have been two larger impediments. One is that the room had to be cleared out from its long history as a storage, dumping pile for whatever. Unfortunately as I peck away at this task on every trip to Little Rock it sometimes seems the Sisyphean task, since for every box I throw out or designate to the ACORN archives at the Wisconsin State Historical Society’s Social Change Collection, in my absence some other set of left-behinds will try to reclaim the room as storage. The other problem is the contemporary challenges of all museums, no matter how small our ambitions, which is how to imagine getting bodies through the door, second floor or no.
On Wade’s World, I interviewed a self-described historian, Paul Perdue, specializing in Pine Bluff, the smallish city some 45 miles below Little Rock on the Arkansas River. I had met Paul when he send me a random Facebook message asking if I knew of any photographs of ACORN’s first office on 5th in Pine Bluff in the 1970’s. Although we struck out on that search, I asked Paul what he was up to and he described something he called the Pine Bluff Desktop Museum. As he told me and KABF’s listeners the Desktop Museum is largely a collection of 34 or so photo albums of different situations and time period that he maintains at this point on Facebook. This may sound peculiar but this is actually part of an interesting phenomena of largely unheralded crowdsourcing of history that is more common that you might imagine. I overhear relatives, friends, and others frequently talking about the time they spend on Facebook sites memorializing old scenes and sites in Little Rock, New Orleans, and other places, so I wasn’t surprised that Perdue had hit the 5000 Facebook limit and was being inundated with photos from Pine Bluff people which he would scan and return or store in his climate controlled attic if warranted.
As do-it-yourself as this all sounds, I’ve read about great museums efforts to put large parts on their collections on the internet to increase access and viewing. I’ve been to the pocket museums in the Amsterdam airport that feature regular exhibitions from some of their great museums. Why not take this little room on Main Street and blow it up larger by collecting, identifying, and displaying photographs and artifacts on the web of ACORN’s long and continuing history?
Paul Perdue’s notion of a “desktop museum” might be just the trick.