The town of Hope, Arkansas, settled in 1852, became famous when Bill Clinton ended his acceptance speech at the 1992 Democratic Convention with “I believe in a place called Hope.”
Hope’s population of slightly more than 10,000, represents about three thousandths of one percent of the U.S. population. Yet Hope is the birthplace of a disproportionate share of national political figures: Bill Clinton, the 42nd president of the United States, and Mike Huckabee, the current surging Republican candidate.
Clinton was born in Hope in 1946, three months after his father died in an accident. Clinton lived with his maternal grandparents in Hope while his mother went to nursing school.
Huckabee was born nine years later, by which time Clinton and his mother had moved 90 Miles away to Hot Springs.
Having a president and a presidential contender from Hope makes me wonder, what is it about this place called Hope? Why would such a small town produce one president and one presidential contender within 15 years? Why Hope?
The City of Hope was named for the daughter of James Loughborough, the Cairo and Fulton (railroad) land commissioner, who drew up the city plat. It is the county seat of Hempstead County, located 25 miles northeast of Texarkana and 120 miles southwest of Little Rock Arkansas.
Hope is “a nice little quiet town,” said Arkansas resident Tommy Horton.
This description reminds me of Carrollton, Georgia, the town where I grew up.
In the early 1970s, my family moved to the town of about 12,000 residents located an hour west of Atlanta. Though Carrollton might now be considered more of an Atlanta suburb, back then it was a small, close-knit community.
I called Hope Mayor Dennis Ramsey to learn more about Hope and why it produced a president and presidential contender.
“Everyone knew what everyone was doing” and back then “we didn’t have locks on the door,” said Ramsey, the president of Summit Bank in Hope, and a Hope native.
This too sounds similar to Carrollton. Growing up, we often left the door unlocked and, wherever we went, people knew who we were and who our parents were. They would look out for us as if we were their own children.
News traveled fast in Carrollton, as it probably did in Hope. I know from experience that news of a child’s misbehavior outside the home often had reached that child’s parents by the time she got home.
According to Ramsey, Hope students had a “great educational system and support…teachers took an interest.” Ramsey reminisced that his former civics teacher, Josephine Vesey, took her topic to heart and Anna Williams, an English teacher and sponsor of the Student Council, worked hard to encourage young leaders.
Offering an additional reason for Clinton’s and Huckabee’s success, Ramsey noted that both former state governors Clinton and Huckabee had humble beginnings. Clinton lived with his grandmother and Huckabee’s father was a fireman.
As boys, both Hope residents learned that working hard pays off, that success and achievement follow hard work, that success does not happen by itself, but requires real work.
“Big things come out of small packages,” said Hope Vice Mayor David Johnson in a telephone interview. “People here dream and their dreams come true… we had parents that would allow us to dream.”
“Allow your kids to dream,” Johnson recommended. These dreams provide a vision of what is possible. Hope for what might be.
Johnson said that he had “always dreamed of going to the White House.” He visited the White House during the Clinton Administration.
It is good to know that dreams can come true.
Hope – the name
Asked if he believes Clinton and Huckabee might have been inspired by the town’s name, Johnson responded, “I do, I do. I always want to have hope.”
Hope, a place of community, education, work ethic and dreams, sounds like Hope’s motto “A slice of the good life.”
What role will Hope play in the current presidential election? We already have one president from a place called Hope. Will there be another?
While pundits will continue to call the race from now until election day, as a veteran of over a dozen elections, my experience is that you can never fully anticipate what will happen, and that its not over until its over. The election is a long way off.
I can tell you this much, there are real nice people in Hope, Arkansas. And it sure is nice to believe in a place called Hope.