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Hattie Caraway documentary to premiere July 19


The premiere of a new documentary, “Hattie Caraway: The Silent Woman,” will be held in the Arkansas State University Student Union Auditorium, 101 N. Caraway Road, on Tuesday, July 19, from 7-9 p.m. The event is free and open to the public. After a reception sponsored by the ASU Department of Radio-Television at 7 p.m., the screening of the 30-minute documentary will be followed by a question-and-answer session with the film's participants.

Hattie Wyatt Caraway of Jonesboro was the first woman to be elected to the United States Senate, holding office from 1932-45. At the time, she was one of the most famous women in America. While often dismissed as "Silent Hattie" for not making many speeches in the Senate, she won the respect of her constituents through her hard work and diligent efforts on their behalf during the Depression and World War II. She also became the first woman to be re-elected to the Senate, the first woman to chair a Senatorial committee, and the first woman to preside over the Senate.

The documentary was filmed by Baker Alkarimeh, a Radio-Television graduate student from Jordan. He says, "I grew up in the ancient city of Gadara, which has embraced ancient civilizations throughout history such as Greek, Roman, Byzantine, and Arabic civilizations. This city had a significant impact on my historical imagination as a novelist, which made me believe in what Socrates said: 'I am not an Athenian or a Greek, but a citizen of the world.'"

Alkarimeh received his bachelor's degree in RTV in 2003, has written four novels in the Arabic language, and has produced a dozen documentary and dramatic films in Arabic. He worked for four years in the Department of Radio and Television at Yarmouk University in Jordan as a RTV trainer before receiving a scholarship to study in the United States, arriving at Arkansas State University in 2009.

At ASU, he produced two other documentary films: “Ancient History of Northeast Arkansas” and “The Resurgence of Jonesboro’s Downtown” in addition to “Hattie Caraway: The Silent Woman.” He is currently completing his master's thesis, “People’s Perceptions of Women’s Stereotypes in Films: A Survey of University Students.” He says, "I intend to return to Jordan at the beginning of August this year to teach in the department of Radio and Television at Yarmouk University. My dreams are to continue writing novels and making documentary films that address humanitarian and historical issues."

The documentary was created under the direction of Dr. Mary Jackson Pitts, who graduated from ASU in 1983, and currently serves as professor and chair of the ASU Radio-TV Department. Her daughters Sarah and Lillie are featured in the film. Alkarimeh says, "The idea for this film came first from Dr. Pitts, and the heritage of Mrs. Caraway was clarified by Dr. Nancy Hendricks, who has studied Caraway and her legacy. Caraway as a person needs to be known as well as her achievements, especially in Jonesboro. She typified a fundamental shift in American society and the patriarchal history, particularly in American society from 1932-1950. Caraway, ‘the silent woman,’ managed to get her voice out."

Dr. Pitts said, "Baker is from the country of Jordan, yet his love of filmmaking allows him to take whatever the topic and turn it into a work of art. He provides us with the story of the first woman U.S. senator to be elected, Hattie Caraway. This particular documentary is one of many that Baker has produced in his career. He has a passion for filmmaking. When he came to our department as a graduate student, he came with a thirst for telling stories. Because of this, he has made our department, university, and community a better place. It is Baker's hope that this documentary will engage the audience in such a way that the tribute to Hattie Caraway will be carried forward with tangible recognition on the ASU campus. While Baker's home country is Jordan, he recognizes how important Hattie Caraway was to the success of the ASU campus."

Several notable figures are featured in the documentary. They include Caraway scholar Dr. Nancy Hendricks, a 1974 ASU graduate who currently serves as director of Alumni Communications. In her signature role, Hendricks portrays Caraway in the film and also provides background information in an onscreen interview. Her award-winning research on Hattie Caraway includes the dramatization, “Dear Mrs. Caraway, Dear Mr. Kays,” which was presented last fall as part of the ASU Centennial celebration, as well as the book of the same name which was published in November. A previous play, “Miz Caraway and the Kingfish,” tells the story of Caraway's colorful election campaign in 1932 with the help of the controversial Huey Long.  

Michael B. Doyle, a 1974 graduate of ASU, is a faculty member in the Department of Radio-TV and serves as station manager of KASU-FM, the public radio service of Arkansas State University. In the play “Dear Mrs. Caraway, Dear Mr. Kays,” Doyle portrayed V. C. Kays. Several scenes of Doyle and Hendricks onstage in the dramatization are seen in the documentary.

Dr. Ruth Hawkins, who graduated from ASU in 1982, is director of Arkansas Heritage Sites and Arkansas Delta Byways and served as director of the ASU Centennial Commission. President Emeritus Dr. Eugene Smith graduated from Arkansas State in 1952, and among other administrative positions, served as university president from 1984-1992. In interview segments, both provide insights about Caraway. The historic Jonesboro home of Julia and Henry P. Jones, who graduated in the class of 1960, is prominently featured in the film. Other scenes were shot in Jonesboro's Oaklawn Cemetery, Craighead Forest, and ASU's Cooper Alumni Center.

Dr. Pitts said, "Dr. Nancy Hendricks is a jewel. Her support of Baker's project is a tribute to her passion for introducing people to Hattie Caraway. The Radio-Television department is grateful that Dr. Hendricks gave of her time to help Baker to produce an excellent documentary. Dr. Hendricks, along with Michael Doyle, RTV instructor and KASU radio general manager, helped to bring Senator Caraway to life in the documentary."

Hattie Caraway was the first honorary degree recipient at what was then Arkansas State College and served as president of the A-State Alumni Association. She and A-State President V. C. Kays corresponded often, sometimes daily, especially on matters concerning funding from the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, Public Works Administration, and other federal agencies which she lobbied for assistance on the college's behalf. During her dozen years in office, nine buildings were constructed on the A-State campus through federal funding during the depths of the Depression when money was scarce. Four are still standing and heavily used today. When America entered World War II in 1941 and the college was struggling with decreased enrollment, Caraway convinced the federal government to establish an Army College Training Detachment on campus. Hundreds of soldiers from all over the country discovered Jonesboro and Arkansas State, many of them staying to help build the community after the war.

Dr. Pitts summed up: "It is our desire in the Radio-Television department to bring the stories of the Delta to the people. “Hattie Caraway: The Silent Woman” is a great example of collaboration between different areas on campus."

For more information on the documentary and its premiere, contact Dr. Mary Jackson Pitts (mpitts@astate.edu), chair of the ASU Radio-TV Department, at (870) 972-3070.