Tag Archives: Crisis at Central High

New Off Broadway play LITTLE ROCK opens tonight in NYC

Tonight in New York City, the new play Little Rock, about the events in 1957, officially opens.

Written and directed by Rajendra Ramoon Maharaj, eleven years ago, he was in a residency at the Arkansas Repertory Theatre.  During that time, he created It Happened in Little Rock, which was performed at the Rep in September 2007.  It was their contribution the community events commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the integration of Little Rock Central High.

Though Maharaj’s current production is different from the 2007 Rep production, it was inspired by his time in Little Rock and the connections he made during his residency.

The cast includes Rebekah Brockman, Justin Cunningham, Charlie Hudson III, Ashley Robinson, Stephanie Umoh (who starred in the Arkansas Rep production of Pal Joey), Shanice Williams, Peter O’Connor, Damian Jermaine Thompson (who starred in the Arkansas Rep productions of The Whipping Man and the Scottish Play), Kea Trevett and Anita Welch.

The production officially opens on June 6 and is scheduled for a limited run through September 8.

This production illustrates why theatre is important and Arkansas Repertory Theatre specifically is important.  One, theatre is a chance to explore and explain moments from our past and present.  The Rep saw a role it could play in telling a variety of stories and perspectives while molding a narrative about events in 1957 and progress that had been made (or not) since then.

Additionally, it is important that the Arkansas Repertory Theatre provided an artistic home for a playwright and director to learn.  In addition to working on It Happened in Little Rock, over the years Maharaj directed A Raisin in the Sun, Dreamgirls, and Intimate Apparel for Arkansas Rep.  It was through his experiences in Little Rock in 2004 and 2006, that he was inspired to collaborate with Bob Hupp, Leslie Golden and the Rep staff on It Happened in Little Rock.  Developing a play is not easy, cheap, or quick.  It is vital to the future of theatre to have artistic homes which can support these initiatives.

As the Arkansas Rep is preparing for its “Next Act” it is important to remember the impact it has had artistically and as an agent for community conversation on not only Little Rock but the state of Arkansas.  Sometimes theatre sparks ideas that no other art-form can, or no amount of reading or listening to speeches can.

Repertorium Praeter Theatrum

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New play LITTLE ROCK, inspired by 1957 events, with roots at Arkansas Rep begins performances tonight in NYC

Tonight in New York City, a new play starts previews.  It is entitled Little Rock and is written and directed by Rajendra Ramoon Maharaj.

Eleven years ago, Maharaj was in a residency at the Arkansas Repertory Theatre creating It Happened in Little Rock, which was performed at the Rep in September 2007.  It was their contribution the community events commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the integration of Little Rock Central High.

Though Maharaj’s current production is different from the 2007 Rep production, it was inspired by his time in Little Rock and the connections he made during his residency.

Here is the official description of Little Rock:

LITTLE ROCK tells the riveting true story of the Little Rock Nine, the first black students to attend their city’s formerly segregated central high school. What began as their quest for a better education soon became a national crisis, igniting the passions of a divided country and sparking a historic fight for justice in the Jim Crow South.

On the cusp of the Civil Rights Movement, a changing world watched as these nine children from Arkansas battled for their rights with only a book and pencil.

The cast includes Rebekah Brockman, Justin Cunningham, Charlie Hudson III, Ashley Robinson, Stephanie Umoh (who starred in the Arkansas Rep production of Pal Joey), Shanice Williams, Peter O’Connor, Damian Jermaine Thompson (who starred in the Arkansas Rep productions of The Whipping Man and the Scottish Play), Kea Trevett and Anita Welch.

The production officially opens on June 6 and is scheduled for a limited run through September 8.

This production illustrates why theatre is important and Arkansas Repertory Theatre specifically is important.  One, theatre is a chance to explore and explain moments from our past and present.  The Rep saw a role it could play in telling a variety of stories and perspectives while molding a narrative about events in 1957 and progress that had been made (or not) since then.

Additionally, it is important that the Arkansas Repertory Theatre provided an artistic home for a playwright and director to learn.  In addition to working on It Happened in Little Rock, over the years Maharaj directed A Raisin in the Sun, Dreamgirls, and Intimate Apparel for Arkansas Rep.  It was through his experiences in Little Rock in 2004 and 2006, that he was inspired to collaborate with Bob Hupp, Leslie Golden and the Rep staff on It Happened in Little Rock.  Developing a play is not easy, cheap, or quick.  It is vital to the future of theatre to have artistic homes which can support these initiatives.

As the Arkansas Rep is preparing for its “Next Act” it is important to remember the impact it has had artistically and as an agent for community conversation on not only Little Rock but the state of Arkansas.  Sometimes theatre sparks ideas that no other art-form can, or no amount of reading or listening to speeches can.

Repertorium Praeter Theatrum

UPDATE – on the afternoon of May 30, the producer announced that due to some technical difficulties, the production was being delayed a few days.

Little Rock Look Back: Ernest Green graduation from LR Central High

Last week, the Class of 2018 graduated from Little Rock Central High School.  Perhaps the most famous graduation ceremony in the long-storied history of Little Rock Central High took place on May 27, 1958.  It was on that date that Ernest Green became the first African American to graduate from the formerly all-white school.

Among those in the audience to witness this historic event was an up and coming minister named Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  A friend of L. C. and Daisy Bates, he attended the 1958 Central High School graduation to witness Green receiving a diploma. Each senior only received eight tickets to the ceremony at Quigley Stadium.   Dr. King was in the state to address the Arkansas AM&N (now UAPB) graduation.  Because he was going to be nearby, Dr. King wanted to witness the history.  Green did not know that Dr. King was in the stands until after the conclusion of the ceremony.  Later that evening, Dr. King gave Green a graduation present of $15.

Ernest Green, Dr. King and Daisy Bates share a relaxed moment — which was probably rare for the three in 1958

Because of fears about the event becoming a media circus, the Little Rock School District limited the press on the field to one Democrat and one Gazette photographer. Other press were limited to the press box normally filled with sportswriters covering the gridiron exploits of the champion Tigers.  There were photos taken of Green prior to the ceremony as well as during the ceremony.

During the graduation rehearsal, there had been concerns that some students or other people might try to disrupt the practice.  But it went off without a hitch.  Likewise, the ceremony itself went smoothly.  Local press reported that some members of the class briefly chatted with Green during the ceremony.  That the event took place without incident was a relief on many levels to City leaders.  Also in the class of 1958 were a son of Little Rock Mayor Woodrow Mann and a daughter of LRSD Superintendent Virgil Blossom.

Little Rock Look Back: 1959 Recall Election Day

The triumphant trio who were retained by Little Rock voters.

May 25, 1959, was not only the Recall Election Day, it was the last day of school for the Little Rock School District’s elementary and junior high students.  The results of that day’s vote would determine whether the ninth grade students would be in class come fall, or joining their older friends and neighbors in sitting out a school year.

While expectations that a new record of turnout would be set were off, over 25,000 of the 42,000 registered voters DID cast ballots in the May 25, 1959, Recall Election.

As the precinct results started coming in, some unexpected trends developed.  Some of the boxes in the more affluent, western neighborhoods which had been expected to be strongly in favor of keeping Everett Tucker, Russell Matson and Ted Lamb were not providing the anticipated overwhelming numbers.  Likewise, some of the more working class neighborhoods which had been projected to be strongly in favor of keeping Ed McKinley, Ben Rowland and Bob Laster were more receptive to keeping Tucker, Matson and Lamb.

As the night rolled onward, only Everett Tucker looked like a sure thing to be retained on the School Board.  At one point in the evening it appeared that the other five members would be recalled.  By the time they were down to four boxes still uncounted, the three CROSS-backed candidates were guaranteed to be recalled, but the status of Lamb and Matson was still undetermined.  Finally, with only two boxes remaining, there was a sufficient cushion to guarantee Matson and Lamb would continue as board members.

Two boxes from the Woodruff school were uncounted at the end of Monday. They had 611 votes between the two of them, which was not enough to change any outcomes.  They were being kept under lock and key to ensure there was no tampering with them.

Once it became apparent that Tucker, Lamb and Matson were retained, the STOP watch party erupted.  Six young men hoisted the triumphant three on their shoulders and paraded them through the crowd.  Dr. Drew Agar enthusiastically announced to the crowd, “Mission completely accomplished.”

At around 11:00 p.m. William S. Mitchell addressed the crowd.  “This is a great awakening of our home town…I have never seen such a wonderful demonstration of community spirit.”  He later went on to thank the thousands of people who volunteered in the effort.

At the CROSS headquarters, Ed McKinley and Rev. M. L. Moser were sequestered in a room poring over results.  When it appeared that 5 of the 6 might be recalled, McKinley issued what turned out to be a premature statement.

Back at the STOP party, the celebration continued.  While people knew that much work was still ahead, the men and women in attendance were enjoying a rare moment of joy after nearly two years of strife.

Little Rock Look Back: Sermons, TV Shows Dominate Final Day of 1959 Recall Campaign

A rainy Sunday afternoon did not stop STOP canvassers on May 24, 1959.

Sunday, May 24, 1959, was election eve for the Recall Campaign.  As such, the election figured into some Sunday morning sermons.  Reverend M. L. Moser Jr. spoke from the pulpit of his church and described the issue of segregation as Biblical. As many had before him, and would after him, he used the story of Noah’s three sons as a way to justify segregation of the races.

(Supposedly one of the sons was the father of the white race, one the father of the African American race, and one the father of the Asian race.  In this narrative, no explanation is given for other variations such as Native Americans and other indigenous people or persons from the sub-continent of India.  Also excluded is the likely race of everyone in the story – those who live in the Middle East.)

At Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, Dean Charles A. Higgins prayed for the schools but did not tell his parishioners how to vote.  Rev. Aubrey G. Walton at First Methodist Church spoke about the schools needing to be free from politics and pressure groups.  (Though Rev. Walton did later appear that evening on a STOP sponsored TV show.)

Embattled School Board president Ed McKinley refused requests from the media and others to divulge his plans for the future of the Little Rock School District.  Earlier he had stated he had an idea on how the schools could be reopened and segregated, but still remain in compliance with the courts.  Across the river, segregationists were planning a rally in North Little Rock to head off any plans for future integration on the north side.  Congressman Alford had already agreed to speak at this rally.

In paid time on TV, Governor Faubus spoke at length in a criticism of the Arkansas Gazette. He called the fired teachers pawns in a larger game.  He noted in his remarks that he did not expect to sway any votes by this point.

Not to be outdone, STOP was on all three TV stations. Sometimes the program was aired on more than one station simultaneously.  In an appearance sponsored by STOP, William S. Mitchell noted that May 24 was coincidentally Children’s Day.  He noted that never before in Little Rock history had so many people volunteered for a cause as those who had worked on STOP and with STOP.  The Women’s Emergency Committee, PTA Council, labor unions, and numerous other organizations had come together to raise money, knock on doors, and otherwise get the word out.

Finally, it was all over but the voting.  Nineteen days of outrage, exasperation, and hyperbole was coming to an end.  When dawn broke, it would be election day.

Little Rock Look Back: End near for 1959 School Board Recall Election

May 23, 1959, was a Saturday. It was also two days before the School Board recall election.  With it being a Saturday, it was the last full day for door knocking as supporters for all sides were busy trying to get out the vote.

Both sides were confident of victory.  Before a crowd of 1,000 in MacArthur Park, segregationists Rep. Dale Alford and Mississippi congressman John Bell Williams berated Harry Ashmore and the Arkansas Gazette.

STOP chair Dr. Drew Agar and campaign chair William Mitchell predicted it would be the largest turnout in Little Rock school election history.  They also stated that Gov. Faubus’ TV appearance criticizing STOP had actually pushed people over to their side.

Echoing Agar and Mitchell, the Pulaski County Election Commission predicted 30,000 of the district’s 42,000 registered voters would cast ballots.  The previous record of 27,000 had been cast in September 1958 when voters decided to keep the high schools closed.  By contrast, 14,300 voted in the December 1958 election which had selected the six school board members now on the ballot for recall.  On May 22, the final day of absentee ballot voting, 205 absentee votes had been cast bringing it to a total of 455 absentee ballots.

William S. Mitchell, who in addition to being a renowned attorney, apparently had a wicked sense of humor.  He used CROSS’s name against them in ads (placed throughout the newspaper) which urged voters to “Cross” out the names of the three candidates being backed by CROSS.

Scenes from Elizabeth Eckford bench groundbreaking

On May 17, 2018, Elizabeth Eckford joined with representatives of the National Park Service, Little Rock School District, Bullock Temple CME, and many other organizations to break the ground for a commemorative bench.

This bench is a reproduction of the one on which Ms. Eckford sat so famously on the morning of September 4, 1957.

The bench will be built over the summer and installed in September 2018.

Here are some scenes from the ceremony.

Elizabeth Eckford visits with Central High School Principal Nancy Rousseau.
David Kilton of the National Park Service speaks at the ceremony.
Attendees spilled out of the tent and lined the street for the event.
Ms. Eckford speaks to the crowd.
Ms. Eckford is joined by Central High students in breaking ground.