On January 7, 1910, one of the most controversial figures in Arkansas history was born: future Governor Orval Eugene Faubus.
Faubus is today remembered for his role fighting for the continued segregation of the Little Rock public schools. Raised in a socialist family, his staunch embrace of segregation was a surprise to many who viewed him as more of a moderate on the issue. At the time, and later, it was viewed as more of an opportunistic move to head off a political challenge from segregationists such as Jim Johnson. However, throughout the rest of his lifetime, as others such as George Wallace would recant and repent, Faubus continued to maintain he was “merely” upholding the law of the land (the Supreme Court striking down the law a few years earlier, notwithstanding).
Interestingly, Faubus was also known for hiring African Americans in state government for more than menial tasks. He worked to increase funding to historically black colleges and universities in Arkansas. He fought to abolish the predatory poll tax.
His segregation efforts curtailed Arkansas’ business recruitment for a few years in the late 50s and early 60s. But a few years earlier, in 1955 Faubus had created the Arkansas Industrial Development Commission and appointed Winthrop Rockefeller to lead it. He also increased teacher pay, overhauled the State Hospital, created the Arkansas Children’s Colony, expanded state parks, and stopped the Army Corps of Engineers from damming the Buffalo River.
In late 1965, by executive order, he created the Arkansas Arts and Humanities Council and funded it with his discretionary funds until the legislature would appropriate money in 1967. He also oversaw the creation of the state’s historic preservation program.
Certainly his efforts to flout federal law have tarnished his image. Looking at his accomplishments in the areas of industry, education reform and culture – one wonders what he could have accomplished if he had exerted even more efforts in those areas instead of fighting Eisenhower. It is all moot, because he did not. And the reality is that, yes had he supported Eisenhower, he might well have lost in 1958 to someone like Jim Johnson who would have continued fighting for segregation even more vehemently and would have been unlikely to champion these other issues.