1954 WALLACE LAKE PLANE CRASH REVISITEDby Elliott Stonecipher
In today’s Shreveport Times, Margaret Martin introduces the subject of next Saturday’s Smitherman Memorial Lecture Series, the tragic 1954 Wallace Lake airplane crash. (SEE article here.) As some of you remember, twelve men, many of whom were prominent and important business and community leaders, died that day. Former mayor John Hussey, historian and voter registrar Ernie Roberson, and I will discuss the event and its impact on Shreveport.
Margaret Martin’s knowledge of such local history is noteworthy. As many readers know very well, Maggie is one of only a few of us still active in local affairs who knows a thing or thousand about how Shreveport came to this place in time. Maggie is an available and experienced resource about our area for the Shreveport Times … and, thus, for all of us, but only if and when the Times allows her to be.
In fact, Shreveport suffers mightily from a broad unawareness of its history. As a native Shreveporter, I can name any number of crucially important local “stories” in real need of retelling. Two examples are the 1976 murder of local journalist-turned-advertising man Jim Leslie, and our governmental and political transformation after the 1978 change in our city’s form of government.
The fine we continually pay as a community unaware of its history is a subject which arose in last Tuesday evening’s “public meeting” at LSU-S about our near-mythical Hwy. 3132 Extension to the Port. In possession of new information from my many months of research into the subject, I was stunned to learn that the meeting sponsors, taxpayer-funded Northwest Louisiana Council of Governments (NLCOG) and the Louisiana Department of Transportation & Development (LA DOTD) had changed the meeting format to exclude such presentations and any resulting public discussion. After enough hell was raised to allow a handful to speak with a 3-minute limit, developer Tim Larkin encouraged attendees to ignore any facts of the history of the project, and gather instead for a community singing of kumbaya. Long-time resident and Finish 3132 Coalition maven Marilyn Joiner rose to remind the audience that taking Larkin’s advice is a well-proven prescription for how best to repeat the past, which is to say, to never get the Extension built.
The history of the failed Hwy. 3132 Extension to the Port shows unambiguously that the 42 years of deliberate stalling have always benefited a very few at the expense of the many. In my words – not Marilyn’s – her point was very well made: if you are Tim Larkin, you WANT the history to be ignored, but if you are anyone NOT in a position to personally profit, you very much need to know that history.
Those who attended Tuesday night’s travesty at LSU-S suffered through both the rainstorm outside and the foul stench of community-killing cronyism inside. Had the dutiful residents present heard the factual history of how that cronyism (and/or worse) has kept the Extension on the long list of needed projects we just can’t get done, the powerful reaction to those facts would be felt. Ripped away would be our default belief that a bloated, stumbling and bumbling bureaucracy somehow, inexplicably, just can’t get such things done anymore. Replacing that deliberately nurtured-by-officialdom crock would be the just-plain-facts-and-history: the Extension has never been built because powerful (self) interests have always manipulated our responsible governmental systems to kill it.
Facts and history are never more powerful than when those in power overtly act to suppress them.
Shreveport didn’t grind to its present, multi-decade stagnation by accident, and neither should it resign itself to the increasing threat of future decline. I often point out to audiences interested in these subjects that studies of demography and population change clearly prove that cities and towns don’t roll-over dead one day; they fade away, as many in Louisiana have long been doing.
Whether we study the effect on Shreveport leadership of the 1954 plane crash, or what Jim Leslie’s murder proves about the long-term fallout when the guilty are not held to account, or how cronyism and worse bleeds a community of the confidence necessary to thrive, we must – first – know the facts and history.
For any reader who may not know, this and all other such analysis and commentary I forward to you has been done strictly in the public interest. No compensation of any kind has been solicited, offered or accepted for this work.
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