- Associated Press - Monday, November 3, 2014

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - The tension, rivalry and differences between Northwest Arkansas and its cousin in the Little Rock area are deep-rooted and based on complex issues involving education, sports, economics and geography, but at its heart, the conflict is natural and generally good-natured, experts say.

Professor Emeritus Art English, formerly of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock political science department, said the tension between Northwest Arkansas and the Little Rock region has simmered for decades and started to bubble over recently.

“The rivalries have been there a long time,” he told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (https://bit.ly/1oRkgne ).

Moving Razorback football games away from central Arkansas to Northwest Arkansas, which started in 1999, was a prominent example, he said. The loss showed a shift in power away from forces in Little Rock to those in Northwest Arkansas and was symbolically devastating and unexpectedly bitter, he said.

“There was a fierceness over who would claim the Razorbacks as their own,” he said.

Frank Broyles, then athletic director at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, suggested his Razorbacks’ football team would have to cut back on the number of games it played in Little Rock, where the income was less than in Fayetteville.

Broyles and the UA decided to reduce the number of football games at the 53,000-seat War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock in favor of holding more games in Fayetteville in the 73,000-seat Donald W. Reynolds Stadium.

That quickly raised the ire of Little Rock businessmen Warren Stephens, who owns Stephens Inc., and Joe Ford, at the time chairman and chief executive officer of Alltel Corp.

Stephens declined to comment for this article.

The loss of some Razorback games in Little Rock rankled people in central Arkansas, said Randy Zook, CEO of the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce. After decades of playing at least three games in Little Rock, the number was trimmed to two in 1999 and is down to one this year. War Memorial Stadium and the UA agreed last year to extend their contract from 2016 to 2018 but left Little Rock with just one game going forward.

“That rubbed some sores in folks here in central Arkansas,” said Zook, whose office is in Little Rock.

The Razorbacks played the Georgia Bulldogs on Saturday in Little Rock. Next year, the Little Rock game has been set against the University of Toledo.

English said that competitiveness carries over to economics, the arts and education and to which has the largest companies and top-ranked schools.

“I think regions like to be No. 1,” English said.

Professor Jay Barth, who teaches political science at Hendrix College in Conway, said the rivalry exists because of geography, noting that the large swath of rural land between the two urban areas dictated different growth paths for the regional economies. He said the timing of Northwest Arkansas’ rapid growth in the 1970s through the 1990s added to the differences as it took regional powerhouse businesses like Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Tyson Foods Inc. to the national and then to the international stages.

“They are two regions that speak with different voices,” he said.

Patrick Williams, associate professor of history at the UA and editor of the Arkansas Historical Quarterly, said that from many years before the Civil War, Benton and Washington counties were well-populated, prosperous and had well-educated residents. He said the folks of Northwest Arkansas had livelihoods tied to wheat, timber and cattle, quite different than the cotton-based economy of central Arkansas.

He noted that until 1999, when Interstate 540 provided easy access to Northwest Arkansas from Interstate 40, it was generally difficult to travel between the two areas. He said that facilitated the different cultural and economic growth paths of the two regions. Even before the Civil War, the important Butterfield Trail in Northwest Arkansas didn’t connect the region to the rest of the state but instead to markets in the west and north.

“That difference is carried forward in the coming generations,” he said.

Jeannie Whayne, a professor in the department of history at the UA, described the rivalry between the two regions as both familial and long-standing. She said the two regions didn’t squabble over the issue of slavery, but instead Northwest Arkansas residents, with far fewer slave holders, resented the political and economic power wielded by the wealthy plantation owners of central Arkansas.

In Northwest Arkansas, there was generally less interest in secession from the Union prior to the Civil War, and folks from the area were more likely to join the Union army once hostilities began, Whayne said. After the war, residents of Northwest Arkansas were less likely to view the growing federal government as an enemy.

Those conflicts affected the home of the UA settling in Northwest Arkansas, Whayne explained. There was a good deal of support to have the school in Fayetteville, while in central Arkansas, interest was mixed, with some seeing it as an arm of a federal government they deemed oppressive. The school, then called Arkansas Industrial University, was founded in Fayetteville in 1871.

What eventually followed was years of skirmishes involving the school and its place in the state, Whayne said. Folks in central Arkansas began to complain that it was onerous to have the institution located in one distant corner of the state.

There was little effort to move the university elsewhere for about 40 years, Robert A. Leflar wrote in 1972 in The First 100 Years: Centennial History of the University of Arkansas. But as the half-century mark approached, “other cities began to envy the economic and cultural advantages which the University gave to Fayetteville,” Leflar wrote.

In 1909, a bill to remove the university from Northwest Arkansas passed the state Senate but failed in the House of Representatives, Leflar said. In 1915, a bill proposed to move the school to Pulaski County, but that fell apart when the federal government would not give to the county the site of Fort Roots for the university, Leflar wrote.

Other attempts failed in 1921, 1922, 1923 and 1924. After most legislators and even Arkansans tired of the battle, Rep. Joel Belote sarcastically offered to sponsor a bill to move the state capital from Little Rock to Hot Springs, Leflar said.

Whayne said the rivalry exists today, though it has less heat. She described it as more often a sibling rivalry of sorts. She said that while the rivalry does still have enthusiastic supporters, it isn’t a real issue for most Arkansans.

“It’s a family feud, but only a minority of the family is fighting,” she said. “Some of us are unaware of the fight at all, and others are trying to keep the peace.”

Janine Parry, professor in the political science department with the UA, said the population boom in Northwest Arkansas brought with it, for the first time since the skirmishes over the University of Arkansas, amenities that rival or surpass those in the capital, including Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.

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Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, https://www.arkansasonline.com

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