Dan Travis Sprick (1902–1972)

Dan T. Sprick was a prominent political figure in Little Rock (Pulaski County) in the middle of the twentieth century. He served a single term as mayor of Little Rock before spending a decade in the Arkansas Senate.

Daniel Travis Sprick was born on May 19, 1902, in Little Rock. Little is known about his early years before he entered the military to serve in World War I. After the war, he built a company that constructed the first trunk sewer line around Little Rock. He later founded the Donnafill Corp.

Turning from business to politics, Sprick served three terms on the Little Rock City Council, from 1935 to 1941. During his time on the council, Sprick was the only member to vote against locating the Robinson Auditorium at its eventual location at Markham and Broadway, preferring another site. In 1940, Sprick sought the Democratic nomination for mayor but was runner-up to former mayor Charles Moyer, who had held the office from 1925 to 1929 and was seeking a return to public life. Following his defeat, Sprick joined the U.S. armed forces to serve during World War II.

After his period of service was over in 1944, Sprick made another run for the office of Little Rock mayor, seeking to succeed Moyer, who was not seeking reelection. After a nasty campaign in which voting records on the city council offered fodder for each candidate, Sprick narrowly defeated council member Sam Wassell in the December 5, 1944, Democratic Party primary. Sprick’s margin of victory in the hotly contested contest was narrow, with Sprick winning by a count of 3,923 to 3,805. Given the closeness of the tally, Wassell contested the results in court. He claimed that there were people not on the poll tax rolls who had voted, while also asserting that there was a group of voters who lived outside the ward in which they voted. In response, Sprick countersued, making the same claims against Wassell. The case went all the way to the Arkansas Supreme Court, which refused to make a definitive ruling, instead remanding the case to the local court. Finally, on March 26, eight days before the city’s general election, Wassell dropped his suit, paving the way for Sprick’s victory in the overwhelmingly Democratic city.

Sprick’s tenure as mayor was comparatively quiet. He took office as World War II was ending, and his years in office were characterized by tremendous growth in both the city budget and the number of municipal positions. The substantive growth led to a need to address the demands for enhanced infrastructure. This, in turn led to a marked increase in city purchases, which resulted in an investigation of the city’s purchasing procedures. Although the investigation discovered no illegal activity, the resulting final report did note the need for the city to better anticipate its cash flow.

While things had generally run smoothly during Sprick’s tenure, he nevertheless faced a challenge in the Democratic primary as Sam Wassell sought to avenge his earlier defeat. This time, Wassell emerged victorious, beating Sprick en route to the first of his two-year terms before he was upset in 1951 by Republican Pratt Remmel. Following his defeat, Sprick returned to the business world. Sprick did not have progressive ideas on race. For example, during the 1958–59 school year, the so-called “Lost Year” when Little Rock high schools were closed in order to avoid desegregation, Sprick served on the board of the private school established by some of the leaders of the anti-desegregation effort.

Sprick served in the Arkansas Senate from 1961 to 1970, during which time he was a strong supporter of Governor Orval Faubus. Arguably the most important piece of legislation that he sponsored was a law that enabled cities to collect advertising and promotion taxes, funds that have, over the years, supported major urban upgrades.

While a state senator, Sprick was one of the leaders of an effort to prevent Muhammad Ali from speaking at the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County) in 1969. The incident began following the university’s 1969 announcement that Ali had been invited to appear as part of the university’s public appearance series. The boxer’s refusal to be drafted and go to Vietnam and his being banned from boxing had led to his making a living giving lectures, but in pro–Vietnam War Arkansas, the invitation had been met with opposition that went beyond the university community. The Pulaski Businessmen’s Association’s request that Ali not be allowed speak was countered by university president David Mullins’s defense of his right to speak on campus. Sprick led a Senate group that introduced a resolution that called for Ali to be barred from speaking. After a lengthy debate, the resolution was defeated by a voice vote. The Arkansas Gazette’s coverage of the saga included an editorial upon which Sprick later based a suit for libel. The paper ultimately settled the case out of court in deference to Sprick’s poor health.

Sprick and his wife, Alliene Beasley Sprick, had one daughter. Sprick died on January 12, 1972, and is buried in Roselawn Memorial Park in Little Rock.

For additional information:
“Former Mayor of LR Dies.” Arkansas Gazette, January 14, 1972, pp. 1A, 2A.

“Dan T. Sprick.” Little Rock Culture Vulture. https://lrculturevulture.com/tag/dan-t-sprick/ (accessed April 30, 2019).

William H. Pruden III
Ravenscroft School

Last Updated: 04/30/2019