David Pryor lovingly described his hometown of Camden in his 2008 autobiography "A Pryor Commitment."
"As a child growing up in Camden, I was only vaguely aware of the troubles of our time," he wrote. "The third child of four, I followed behind Bill and Cornelia and before Elinor. Our parents did not overly protect their children, but they remained determined to shield us from troubles and provide what we needed. I'm grateful for my childhood--comfortable and secure by any standards--and for benefiting from a small-town upbringing. I'm also naïve enough to believe I experienced something unique."
Pryor wrote that his mother went to downtown El Dorado, about 30 miles to the south, when she wanted to buy the latest fashions or needed a medical specialist.
"If we moved at a slower pace than our Union County neighbors, we wrote it off simply as a difference in style and manner," Pryor said of the difference between Camden and El Dorado. "They boasted their economic progress while we claimed a sense of history and tradition, pointing to our rich heritage and community pride. ... Its perch high up on the river--at a wide bend snaking through low-bottom hollows--accounted for Camden's early importance as a shipping port for cotton and other crops.
"The river's highest cliff, known as Fort Lookout, took its name during the Civil War when Confederate troops established a watch point. A fair amount of trade--including home goods, furniture and finery--made its way up the river from New Orleans. As in most small towns, commercial streets came to be named for national statesmen--Adams, Jefferson and Washington--and residential streets for native trees--Maple, Chestnut and Elm."
Pryor, who was born in August 1934, was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1966, elected governor in 1974 and elected to the U.S. Senate in 1978. Political scientist Jay Barth describes him as "arguably the most popular Arkansas politician of the modern era. ... A Democrat, Pryor played a crucial role in limiting the rise of Republicanism in Arkansas in the latter decades of the 20th century."
Pryor was already a college student when Tommy Tuberville was born in 1954 at Camden, one of three children of Charles and Olive Tuberville. He graduated from Camden Harmony Grove High School in 1972, the year Pryor forced Sen. John L. McClellan into a Democratic primary runoff before losing to the incumbent.
Tuberville went on to attend what's now Southern Arkansas University in nearby Magnolia, where he played football under legendary Coach Raymond "Rip" Powell. Tuberville lettered as a free safety for the Muleriders and also played on the golf team. His father, who officiated athletic events, urged him to become a coach. Tuberville asked his position coach, Sonny Whittington, if he could attend offensive meetings as well as defensive meetings.
About that time, my father bought an English setter from Whittington that we named Rip in honor of Powell. Rip became one of our best bird dogs.
After graduating from SAU in 1976, Tuberville coached at Hermitage High School in Bradley County. He was the head football coach the final two years.
Tuberville moved to the college coaching level in 1980 when he was hired at Arkansas State, where he served as an assistant for five years. He was on the staff at Miami from 1986-93 as the Hurricanes won three national championships and posted an 87-9 record.
Tuberville was defensive coordinator at Texas A&M in 1994. At the end of that season, Tuberville got his first college head coaching job at Ole Miss. He was there for four seasons and was the Associated Press' Southeastern Conference Coach of the Year in 1997.
Tuberville later served as head coach at Auburn from 1999-2008, Texas Tech from 2010-12 and Cincinnati from 2013-16. Many people were surprised in April 2019 when Tuberville announced that he would run for the U.S. Senate from Alabama. He won the Republican nomination this summer, defeating former Sen. Jeff Sessions, and then easily defeated incumbent Democrat Doug Jones earlier this month.
We can now call Camden the cradle of senators. You see, Camden can also claim McClellan even though he was born in February 1896 on a farm near Sheridan. McClellan moved to what was then the booming town of Camden in the 1930s to practice law and was elected to the Senate in 1942. He was re-elected five times before his death, while still in office, in 1977. It was that seat that Pryor won in 1978 and held until January 1997.
Camden can even lay claim to David and Barbara Pryor's son Mark, who was born at Fayetteville in 1963 when his father was in law school. Mark Pryor spent part of his early life in Camden and served in the U.S. Senate from Arkansas from 2003-15.
Camden's population peaked at 15,823 in the 1960 census. The city's population is now estimated at 10,700.
"The wide and welcoming front porches along Washington Street for years impressed me as evidence of the town's durability and cultural significance," David Pryor wrote. "I remember hearing tales of farmers west of Camden bringing wagonloads of cotton along Washington Street and down to the river, headed for New Orleans.
"Most of those great homes are gone now. And the downtown, like so many in the state, has undergone a series of radical changes since the 1940s. The local retailers that flourished after World War II--Watts and Lide's department stores, Copeland's, the Style Shop, and Morgan's and Snow Hardware--all shut down years ago."
Senior Editor Rex Nelson's column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He's also the author of the Southern Fried blog at rexnelsonsouthernfried.com.