Black History Month Spotlight – Downtown Desegregation

Ozell Sutton, one of the honorees
Ozell Sutton, one of the honorees

The new Arkansas Civil Rights History Audio Tour was launched in November 2015. Produced by the City of Little Rock and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock allows the many places and stories of the City’s Civil Rights history to come to life an interactive tour.  This month, during Black History Month, the Culture Vulture looks at some of the stops on this tour which focus on African American history.

The Arkansas Civil Rights Heritage Trail was launched in 2011 by the UALR’s Institute on Race and Ethnicity.  Each year, a theme is chosen to honor a particular group of people who were active in Arkansas’s civil rights movement.  Year by year, the trail grows.  The plan is that over time the trail will stretch from the current starting point at the Old State House, down West Markham Street and President Clinton Avenue to the Clinton Presidential Library and Museum, and then back up the other side of the street to opposite the Old State House.

Downtown Desegregation

In January 1963, Little Rock set in motion a process that ended segregation in its downtown businesses.  Following student sit-ins coordinated by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and Philander Smith College students, in November 1962 white businessmen and merchants formed a secret Downtown Negotiating Committee to set out a timetable for change in consultation with black community representatives.  On January 1, 1963, lunch counters in downtown Little Rock began to serve black customers on an equal basis.  Downtown hotels desegregated their facilities.  Drinking fountains and restrooms had their “White” and “Colored” signs removed.  In June, movie theaters desegregated.  In October, city restaurants desegregated.  That same year, Robinson Auditorium, the Arkansas Arts Center, and city parks desegregated.  In April 1963, in Jet magazine, James Forman, executive secretary of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, hailed the city as “just about the most integrated…in the South.”

The app, funded by a generous grant from the Arkansas Humanities Council, was a collaboration among UALR’s Institute on Race and Ethnicity, the City of Little Rock, the Mayor’s Tourism Commission, and KUAR, UALR’s public radio station, with assistance from the Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau.