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Former President Bill Clinton's Hometown Preserves Boyhood Home

  • Wang Yiru

In 1992, former President Bill Clinton accepted the Democratic Party's nomination for the nation's office with a speech in which he said, "I believe in a place called Hope." Hope was more than Mr. Clinton's vision for the nation, it was also the name of the town in which he was born. For producer Wang Yiru, Elaine Lu has more on the restored birthplace of the former president.

Bill Clinton reading an excerpt: "Early on the morning of August 19, 1946, I was born under a clear sky after a violent summer storm to a widowed mother in the Julia Chester Hospital in Hope, a town of about 6,000 in south-west Arkansas, 33 miles (53 kilometers) east of the Texas border at Texarkana."

In 1946, Hope, Arkansas had only one main street with a train station anchoring one end.

Just down the tracks is the small boyhood home of former President Bill Clinton. Opened to the public in 1997, it is now the Clinton Birthplace Museum.

Martha Berryman, the museum's director, says old photos helped to authentically restore the house.

"Virginia [Clinton's mother] came when the house was under reconstruction. She had photographs and she also went through the rooms and described what was where so that it would have the authenticity to make the house look as it did when she and Bill lived here," she said.

The house belonged to his grandparents and was home to the future president until 1950.

"This is Bill winning the most beautiful baby contest. This is where her grandmother would sit, and using coloring books to teach him. His grandfather would sit here to read the paper with him," Berryman pointed out.

Mr. Clinton's father died three months before his son was born. His mother married Roger Clinton four years later. Mr. Clinton's stepfather was an alcoholic who could be abusive, creating a stressful environment at home.

Berryman says the love from his mother and his grandparents helped him cope, for which he is eternally grateful.

"He does arrange for fresh flowers to be put on the grave regularly," she says. "He has a standing agreement for the maintenance of the graves and flowers."

To Louise Smith, a guide at the Clinton Birthplace Museum, even after two terms as president, Bill Clinton will always be an Arkansas boy. She says, "He just likes the common person. He spends most of his time and attention with them. He's still very much an Arkansas boy, man."

Smith says that to the world that knows Clinton only as the 42nd President of the United States, visiting his birthplace is an opportunity to learn more about him. Over 40,000 people from more than 150 countries have visited the Museum over the past 10 years.

"He went through a lot of adversaries I think, like his dad passed away when he was very little," says one tourist. "It is very heartening to see he did so well in spite of going through these hardships early in his life. "

Smith says she was very proud of him. She explains, "When he became the president, we were thrilled. When my cousin and I went on Amtrak to do the volunteer work, I had a tote bag with the watermelon on it. Picture and it said 'Hope Arkansas, we grow watermelons and presidents.' So we were very proud of ourselves, proud of him."

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