Little Rock Culture Vulture

Cultural events, places and people in the Little Rock area


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Little Rock Look Back: Sixty Years of the Little Rock Nine

Sixty years ago today the Little Rock Nine entered Central High School and stayed. On one hand, this brought to the end a nearly month long standoff between segregationists and those who wanted to obey the U.S. Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board decision.

In the bigger picture, the struggle did not end that day.  Throughout the remainder of the school year, the Little Rock Nine were subjected to threats, isolation and hostility.  Outside of the school, while the crowds may had dispersed after September 25, the raw feelings did not subside.

This was evidenced by the fact that the following year the high schools were closed to avoid having them integrated.

But September 25, 1957, was an historic day in the United States. Under guard of members of the 101st Airborne Division of the Army, the Little Rock Nine were escorted into Central High School. This action by President Dwight Eisenhower was the result of the intrusive efforts of Governor Orval Faubus who had used the Arkansas National Guard to keep the nine students out.

The City of Little Rock was largely a bystander in this issue. The form of government was changing from Mayor-Council to City Manager in November 1957. Therefore Mayor Woodrow Mann and the entire City Council were lame ducks. Mann, whose son was a senior at Central, tried to focus on keeping the peace in Little Rock. Most (if not all) of his Council members sided with the Governor.

Congressman Brooks Hays, a Little Rock resident, had tried to broker an agreement between the President and the Governor but was unsuccessful.  Following that, Mayor Mann was in discussions with the White House about the ability of the Little Rock Police Department to maintain order.  Finally, in the interest of public safety, the President federalized the National Guard and removed them. This paved the way for the Army to come in.

Though the school year was not easy, the nine youths who became known worldwide as the Little Rock Nine were finally in school.  They were Minnijean Brown, Elizabeth Eckford, Ernest Green, Thelma Mothershed, Melba Pattillo, Gloria Ray, Terrence Roberts, Jefferson Thomas and Carlotta Walls.

In 1997, President Bill Clinton, Governor Mike Huckabee and Mayor Jim Dailey, famously held open the doors of Central High for the Little Rock Nine on the 40th anniversary.  Ten years later, Clinton, Huckabee and Dailey returned joined by Governor Mike Beebe and Mayor Mark Stodola to host the 50th anniversary events.

Today, President Clinton was once again at Central.  This time he was joined by Governor Asa Hutchinson and Mayor Stodola.  Two people who have played parts in organizing all three of these commemorations are City Manager Bruce T. Moore and Central High Principal Nancy Rousseau.  Others, such as Skip Rutherford and Annie Abrams have participated in all three commemorations.

In light of its role in history, the school is a National Historic Site, while still functioning as a high school.

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Little Rock Look Back: Ike sends troops to Little Rock

On September 24, 1957, President Dwight Eisenhower ordered the 101st Airborne to Little Rock to ensure that the Little Rock Nine would be able to enter Central High School.

In a thirteen minute televised White House address to the nation, President Eisenhower stated he had acted to prevent “mob rule.”  The President made his decision about the troops while vacationing in Rhode Island. But he flew to Washington DC to deliver the address from the White House. In his remarks, he stated that he felt it was important to discuss this action from the house of Lincoln.

Following the President’s noontime decision, 1,000 members of the 101st Airborne Division were flown to Little Rock.  In addition, all 10,000 members of the Arkansas National Guard were “federalized.”

Earlier in the day, Little Rock Mayor Woodrow Mann had pleaded with the President and US Attorney General for federal intervention.  He stated that the Little Rock police could not quell the crowds alone.


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Little Rock Look Back: Little Rock Nine in Central for a few hours

centralentranceOn Monday, September 23, 1957, the Little Rock Nine entered Central High School for a few hours.

The previous Friday, Federal District Judge Ronald Davies ruled that Governor Faubus had used the National Guard to keep the Little Rock Nine out of the school.  At this point, the Governor withdrew the troops.  The duty of maintaining any order on the site and ensuring the safety of the students now fell solely on the Little Rock Police Department.

To minimize interactions with aggressive protestors who were outside of the school, the Nine were escorted into the side of the school.  Word quickly spread that they had made it into the building.  This caused the 1,000 or more people out front to become more hostile.

Threats were called into the building. Some parents of white children called wanting to get their students out of the building.  Some students snuck out of the building, while at the same time some of the crowd were trying to sneak in.  The situation was tense and getting more so by the minute.

Little Rock Mayor Woodrow Mann and police leadership were concerned about the ability of the City to protect the Nine and maintain order.  The Fire Department refused to use water from a firehose to disperse the crowd.

For the safety of the Little Rock Nine the students were removed from the building after having been in it only a few hours.

 


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Little Rock Look Back: Ernest G. Green

Ernest G. Green is the Managing Director of Public Finance for Lehman Brothers in Washington, D.C.  Featured in the 2006 list of Black Enterprise Magazine’s “75 Most Powerful Blacks on Wall Street”, Mr. Green has served as senior investment banker on transactions for such key clients as the City of New York, State of New York, City of Chicago, Port of Oakland, City of Atlanta, State of Connecticut, Detroit Wayne County Airport, Denver Airport, and the Washington Metropolitan Airport Authority.

Mr. Green served as Assistant Secretary of Labor for Employment and Training during the Carter Administration.  President Clinton appointed him to serve as Chairman of the African Development Foundation.  Secretary of Education, Richard W. Riley, appointed him Chairman of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities Capital Financing Advisory Board.

Born in Little Rock, on September 22, 1941, Mr. Green was the first African American to earn his high school diploma from Central High School. At the age of seventeen he was awarded the NAACP’s Spingarn Medal, as one of the Little Rock Nine. In 1995, he was awarded the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award.  Mr. Green is also a recipient of the Urban League’s Frederick Douglass Freedom Medal, and the John D. Rockefeller Public Service Award. On November 9, 1999, with the Little Rock Nine, he was presented by President Clinton with the Congressional Gold Medal.

Several books, movies and documentaries have chronicled Mr. Green and his eight classmates’ historic year at Central High School in Little Rock — the most recent being the “Ernest Green Story”, produced and distributed by the Walt Disney Corporation.

Mr. Green holds a B.S. in Social Science and Masters in Sociology from Michigan State University, and honorary doctorates from Michigan State University, Tougaloo College, and Central State University.  He currently serves on the Board of Directors of Fisk University, Quality Education for Minorities (QEM) Network, Clark Atlanta University Board of Trustees and the African American Experience Fund Board of Trustees among other distinctions.

Mr. Green and his wife Phyllis live in Washington, D. C.  He is the proud father of Adam, Jessica and McKenzie Ann.


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Little Rock Look Back: Jefferson Thomas

Jefferson Thomas was a track athlete at all-black Dunbar Junior High School in Little Rock when he volunteered to integrate all-white Central High School as a sophomore in 1957.  A few days before he entered the school, he celebrated his fifteenth birthday, having been born on September 19, 1942.

Mr. Thomas was a quiet, soft spoken, unique, and special person.  He had a subtle, infectious sense of humor that served him well throughout his life.  He would find that sense of humor and his love for humanity severely tested by the hate and violence directed toward him by some of the white students at Central High School.  Mr. Thomas graduated from Central High School in May 1960.

He served as the narrator of the Oscar winning documentary short, “Nine from Little Rock.”

Mr. Thomas married in 1965 and has one child (Jefferson, Jr.), still living in Los Angeles.  Mr. Thomas, Sr. was inducted into the United States Army in 1966.  He returned to civilian life in the summer of 1968.

After obtaining a Bachelor Degree in Business Administration from Los Angeles State College, Mr. Thomas went to work as an Accounting Clerk and later, Supervisor for Mobil Oil Corporation.  When Mobil Oil moved its Credit Card Operations, Mr. Thomas remained in Los Angeles, and entered Federal Service as an Accounting Clerk with the Department of Defense.  The DOD relocated parts of its LA operations to Columbus, Ohio, in 1989.  He sold his business and moved to Columbus.

After moving to Columbus, Mr. Thomas continued his commitment to serve the local community, Mr. Thomas took time to serve as a volunteer mentor in the Village to Child Program, co-sponsored by Ohio Dominican University.

He was a frequent speaker at numerous high schools, colleges and universities throughout the country, and an eager mentor to young people.  He was the recipient of numerous awards from local and federal governmental agencies.  These awards include the NAACP Spingarn Medal, and Congressional Gold Medal, this Nation’s longest-running tradition of honor, for helping make democracy work.  He was especially proud of the life-size sculpture of the Little Rock Nine at the Arkansas State Capital in Little Rock, the first in the state honoring living citizens.

Jefferson Thomas retired in September 2004, after 27 years of Federal Service. He departed this life in 2010.  His wife, Mary, still resides in Columbus, Ohio.


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Little Rock Look Back: First Arkansas Razorback game at War Memorial Stadium

On September 18, 1948, the Arkansas Razorbacks took on Abilene Christian and won the game by a score of 40 to 6.  It was the first game of the season, and the Razorbacks went into the game ranked #13. They maintained that ranking for four weeks before falling out of national standings.  The team ended up with a season record of five wins and five losses. Playing four of their games at War Memorial that season, they were two and two in Little Rock. They were one and two in Fayetteville and amassed a 2-1 record on the road.

Dedication ceremony in 1948. Photo courtesy of the War Memorial Stadium Commission.

Dedication ceremony in 1948. Photo courtesy of the War Memorial Stadium Commission.

Prior to the game, the stadium was dedicated to the veterans of World War I and World War II in a ceremony led by former Razorback standout and Medal of Honor recipient Maurice “Footsie” Britt.  Though he would later be known for entering politics and becoming Arkansas’ first Republican Lieutenant Governor, in his college days he was known statewide as an outstanding Razorback football and baseball athlete.  During World War II, his bravery and courage allowed him to become first person in American history to earn all the army’s top awards, including the Medal of Honor, while fighting in a single war.

Also participating in the opening ceremony were a mass of high school marching bands from across the state. Reports indicate up to forty bands were on the field to play the National Anthem as part of the event.

The construction of the stadium had been a dream of Governor Ben T. Laney. He had encouraged the Arkansas General Assembly to create the stadium during the 1947 session.  In August of 1947, Little Rock was chosen as the location over Hot Springs and North Little Rock. West Memphis had abandoned its bid when it was unable to secure the necessary financial pledges.  Construction started in 1947 and continued up until opening day.  On the day of the game, newspaper photos showed heavy equipment grading the parking lot prior to paving.

Though it had been Laney’s dream, with the passing of the guard, a newspaper photo on the day after the dedication focused on the incoming governor, Sid McMath.  Because Arkansas was such a Democratic heavy state, the paper referred to him as Governor-designate even though it was six weeks prior to the 1948 General Election when he would face off against C. R. Black.  McMath won the race with 89.4% of the vote.


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Little Rock Look Back: Louis Armstrong speaks out

As the Civil Rights movement started taking hold in the mid-1950s, many African American entertainers were vocal in their support.  Louis Armstrong stayed silent.  Until, that is, September 17, 1957.

That night, in Grand Forks, North Dakota, Armstrong blasted President Dwight Eisenhower for his lack of action to make Governor Orval Faubus obey the law.  This was in an interview conducted by a 21 year old University of North Dakota journalism student named Larry Lubenow.

Journalist David Margolick wrote about the incident in The New York Times in September 2007 in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of the integration of Little Rock Central High School.  He recounted how the story, written for the Grand Forks Herald, was picked up all over the country.  The entire Margolick piece can be read here.  Margolick tells that when Armstrong was given the chance to back off the comments, he asserted that he meant all of it.

On September 24, 1957, the night that the 101st Airborne was being mobilized to come into Little Rock, Armstrong sent Eisenhower a telegram again criticizing him for lack of action.  He used colorful language which sarcastically spoofed the “Uncle Tom” moniker which some of his critics had bestowed when they felt he was not doing enough for Civil Rights.  The Eisenhower Presidential Library has a copy of that telegram.  The incident between Satchmo and Ike was the basis for two different plays: Terry Teachout’s Satchmo at the Waldorf and Ishmael Reed’s The C Above C Above High C.