Calvin Reville (Cal) Ledbetter Jr. (1929–2013)

Calvin Reville (Cal) Ledbetter Jr. was a professor, author, politician, and philanthropist. He taught political science at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UALR) from 1960 to 1997, after which he was named Professor Emeritus of Political Science. He also served five consecutive terms in the Arkansas House of Representatives, from 1967 to 1977. Ledbetter is widely remembered for his dedication to higher education as well as his efforts to foster constitutional reform in Arkansas in the 1960s and 1970s.

Cal Ledbetter was born on April 29, 1929, in Little Rock (Pulaski County) to Virginia Ledbetter and Cal Ledbetter Sr. (II); his father served as president of the Boyle Realty Company. Ledbetter received his undergraduate degree from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University and his Juris Doctorate from the University of Arkansas School of Law in Fayetteville (Washington County). From 1955 to 1957, he was stationed in Germany as a member of the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General Corps. He earned his PhD in political science from Northwestern University in 1961.

In 1953, Ledbetter married Mary Brown “Brownie” Williams, who became a political activist in her own right as a member of the Women’s Emergency Committee to Open Our Schools (WEC) in 1958 and began working with the Panel of American Women in Arkansas, later the Arkansas Public Policy Panel, in 1963. The couple had three children.

In 1960, Ledbetter joined the faculty at Little Rock University (which later became UALR). From 1961 to 1978, he was chair of the Department of Political Science. During this time, he expanded the department faculty from two to thirteen and helped develop the first law enforcement degree program for police officers in Arkansas, UALR’s Department of Criminal Justice. In 1978, after a national search, he was selected as dean of the College of Liberal Arts (later the Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences). His ten-year term as dean saw the addition of several new Master of Arts programs, including public history, applied psychology, and technical and expository writing, as well as the creation of the Center for Arkansas Studies and the Humanists as Mediators program.

Ledbetter is also credited with helping to bring about the 1969 merger of Little Rock University with the University of Arkansas system—the founding of UALR. He was a generous benefactor to the university he helped to create, donating more than $1 million in scholarships and gifts, including the Jeffrey C. Ledbetter Endowed Scholarship for political science majors and a monograph press. In 2009, the university renamed the main hall in the Donaghey Student Center the Calvin R. Ledbetter Jr. Assembly Hall. In 2013, Ledbetter established theCal Ledbetter Arkansas Legislative Institute Endowment to promote a better understanding of the state through scholarly study of legislators and the legislative process.

A lifelong student of Arkansas history, Ledbetter wrote extensively about the state and its political past. His most celebrated book is Carpenter from Conway: George Washington Donaghey as Governor of Arkansas, 1909–1913. He also co-authored three books: Politics in Arkansas: The Constitutional Experience, The Arkansas Plan: A Case Study in Public Policy, and Arkansas Becomes a State. Ledbetter additionally authored more than thirty articles for various journals, including the Arkansas Historical Quarterly, the National Civic Review, the University of Arkansas Law Review, and State Government.

In addition to his academic career, Ledbetter—a Democrat—served five terms in the Arkansas House of Representatives, from 1967 to 1977. He represented Pulaski and Perry counties until reapportionment in 1972, after which he served in District 4, Position 3. A strong advocate of legislative reform, Ledbetter chaired the joint Committee on Legislative Organization (COLO). The COLO employed the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University to conduct a study to assist in the reformation of the Arkansas General Assembly. Ledbetter was also elected as a delegate to the state Constitutional Convention of 1968–1970, and again as one of four vice presidents of the Constitutional Convention of 1978–1980. He would later describe his efforts in constitutional reform as the most important work of his legislative career.

Other notable initiatives Ledbetter sponsored include an extension of voting hours, as well as the “circuit breaker” property tax relief for residents over sixty-five. Ledbetter chaired the National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL) Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Task Force after serving on its first executive committee, and he was later appointed to the National Advisory Committee on Criminal Justice Standards and Goals, a commission of the U.S. Department of Justice. He was also a delegate to two Democratic National Conventions, in 1968 and 1984.

Ledbetter was active in the Little Rock community, serving on the boards of Philander Smith College, St. Vincent Infirmary Medical Center, and the Community Council of Central Arkansas. He was also president of the West Little Rock Rotary Club. A lifelong Presbyterian, he served as deacon, elder, and session clerk for several Presbyterian churches in Little Rock.

Ledbetter died at home in Little Rock on August 10, 2013. He is buried at Roselawn Cemetery.

For additional information:
Calvin R. Ledbetter, Jr. Papers, 1964–1988. Center for Arkansas History and Culture. University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Little Rock, Arkansas.

The Calvin R. Ledbetter, Jr. Papers: A Digital Exhibit of the UALR Center for Arkansas History and Culture. Center for Arkansas History and Culture, University of Arkansas at Little Rock. (accessed October 18, 2021).

Obituary of Cal R. Ledbetter Jr. Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, August 12, 2013, p. 2B.

Monica Madey Mylonas
Center for Arkansas History and Culture


No comments on this entry yet.