Ouachita Baptist University will hold the formal opening of the Sen. John Little McClellan Collection on Thursday, Dec. 1. The celebration will include a ribbon-cutting ceremony, tours of the collection and display, a lecture by Dr. Robert Blakey and book signing by Sherry Laymon, author of the McClellan biography Fearless: John L. McClellan, United States Senator.
Sen. McClellan (1896-1977) was a prominent member of the U.S. Senate, serving from 1942 until his death in 1977, representing Arkansas longer than anyone else in the state’s history and serving as Chair of the Committee on Appropriations, the highest committee rank ever attained by an Arkansan in the Senate. He served for 22 years as Chairman of the Committee on Government Operations and for 18 years as Chairman of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. No other chairman of a congressional investigating committee in the history of the U.S. Congress has approached McClellan’s record of tenure as chairman, for either the number of investigations conducted or the results achieved.
McClellan’s most well-known investigations were probes into widespread corruption and criminal activities in the labor management field, organized crime, profiteering in defense contracts for missile procurement and the riots that erupted in cities and college campuses in the late 1960s.
“It took three years, 38 student workers, eight project staff and six permanent staff to arrange and process the 1,300-cubic-foot collection in order to provide primary sources to students and researchers,” Archivist Phyllis Kinnison said in an interview with The Signal, Ouachita’s student newspaper. “We want to celebrate their hard work as well as bring attention to Sen. McClellan’s work for Arkansas and American citizens during his time in office.”
“McClellan sponsored an impressive amount of legislation, and his staff performed an impressive amount of constituent service,” Ray Granade, director of library services, told The Signal. “If one wants to study almost any segment of American life between 1955 and 1975, the McClellan Collection will be informative.”
The Dec. 1 dedication events will begin at 5 p.m. with an opening ceremony in the McClellan Hall Rotunda. Ouachita President Rex M. Horne, Jr. and former McClellan staff member Emon Mahony will open the evening’s celebrations with brief comments and a ribbon-cutting ceremony.
Immediately following the opening ceremony there will be tours of the McClellan Display in McClellan Hall and the collection itself in Riley-Hickingbotham Library, led by Kinnison and Archival Assistant Lynn Valetutti.
Legal scholar Robert Blakey will deliver a lecture, “Memories of a Giant: United States Senator John L. McClellan,” in McBeth Recital Hall at 7:30 p.m. as part of Ouachita’s endowed Birkett Williams Lecture Series. Blakey, currently a professor in the Notre Dame Law School, was instrumental in crafting the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act as a McClellan staff member in 1970. He has been personally involved in drafting and implementing RICO-type legislation in 22 of the more than 30 states that have enacted racketeering laws. He frequently argues in or consults on cases involving RICO statutes at both the federal and state levels, including several cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Sherry Laymon, an independent scholar, will be selling and signing copies of her book Fearless: John L. McClellan, United States Senator before and after the Birkett Williams lecture in Mabee Fine Arts Center. Dr. Laymon taught in Arkansas schools and colleges before pursuing her doctorate at Arkansas State University. She also formerly served as archivist at Ouachita, which sparked her interest in the McClellan Collection. Her articles titled “John McClellan and the Arkansas River Navigation Project” and “Arkansas Dark Ages: The Struggle to Electrify Arkansas” won the Arkansas Historical Association’s Violet B. Giggles Award in 2010 and 2011, respectively, and are published in recent editions of the Arkansas Historical Quarterly.
The collection was made possible by Sen. McClellan’s designation of Ouachita as the repository for his materials in June 1976.
“In committing my papers to Ouachita,” McClellan said, “they will be geographically located in the general area of my birth, which is meaningful to me. And in doing so, I am recognizing Ouachita as an emerging regional leader in private higher education in general and in the study of public affairs in particular.”
The collection came to Ouachita after McClellan’s death in 1977, but there was no provision for staff or supplies to process the collection so little progress was made until President Horne committed in 2008 to having the project completed within three years. The project was completed in January 2011, but the official opening was delayed to coincide with the release of Laymon’s biography of Sen. McClellan.
By Nicci Fillinger