Little Rock Look Back: SCOTUS decision in BATES v LITTLE ROCK case

On February 23, 1960, the U. S. Supreme Court handed down a decision in the case of Daisy BATES et al., Petitioners, v. CITY OF LITTLE ROCK et al.  This case had been argued before the Court in November 1959.

Daisy Bates of Little Rock and Birdie Williams of North Little Rock were the petitioners.  Each had been convicted of violating an identical ordinance of an Arkansas municipality by refusing a demand to furnish city officials with a list of the names of the members of a local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The question for decision was whether these convictions can stand under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

The Little Rock ordinance (10,638) was passed on October 14, 1957. It charged that certain non-profits were actually functioning as businesses and using non-profit status to skirt the law. Therefore it required the non-profits to disclose their members and sources of dues.  North Little Rock passed an identical ordinance.

(Mayor Woodrow Mann was not present at the meeting of the LR Council when the ordinance was passed. But he signed all of the resolutions and ordinances approved that night.  Ordinance 10,638 was the only legislation that night which had also been signed by Acting Mayor Franklin Loy.  Mayor Mann crossed through Loy’s name and signed his own.)

Mrs. Bates and Mrs. Williams as keepers of the records for their respective chapters of the NAACP refused to comply with the law.  While they provided most of the information requested, they contended they did not have to provide the membership rosters and dues paid.

After refusing upon further demand to submit the names of the members of her organization, each was tried, convicted, and fined for a violation of the ordinance of her respective municipality. At the Bates trial evidence was offered to show that many former members of the local organization had declined to renew their membership because of the existence of the ordinance in question. Similar evidence was received in the Williams trial, as well as evidence that those who had been publicly identified in the community as members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People had been subjected to harassment and threats of bodily harm.

Each woman was convicted in the court of Pulaski Circuit Court, First Division, William J. KirbyJudge. They were fined $25 a person.  On appeal the cases were consolidated in the Supreme Court of Arkansas in 1958. The convictions were upheld by five justices with George Rose Smith and J. Seaborn Holt dissenting.

Mrs. Bates and Mrs. Williams then appealed to the U. S. Supreme Court.  The pair’s legal team included Robert L. Carter and George Howard, Jr. (who would later become a federal judge).  Little Rock City Attorney Joseph Kemp argued the case for the City.  The arguments before the U. S. Supreme Court were heard on November 18, 1959.

The SCOTUS decision was written by Associate Justice Potter Stewart.  He was joined by Chief Justice Earl Warren and Associate Justices Felix Frankfurter, Tom C. Clark, John M. Harlan II, William J. Brennan and Charles E. Whittaker.  Justices Hugo Black and William O. Douglas wrote a concurring opinion.

The U. S. Supreme Court reversed the lower courts.

In sum, there is a complete failure in this record to show (1) that the organizations were engaged in any occupation for which a license would be required, even if the occupation were conducted for a profit; (2) that the cities have ever asserted a claim against the organizations for payment of an occupation license tax; (3) that the organizations have ever asserted exemption from a tax imposed by the municipalities, either because of their alleged nonprofit character or for any other reason.

We conclude that the municipalities have failed to demonstrate a controlling justification for the deterrence of free association which compulsory disclosure of the membership lists would cause. The petitioners cannot be punished for refusing to produce information which the municipalities could not constitutionally require. The judgments cannot stand.

In their concurring opinion, Justices Black and Douglas wrote that they felt the facts not only violated freedom of speech and assembly from the First Amendment, but also aspects of the Fourteenth Amendment. They wrote that the freedom of assembly (including freedom of association) was a principle to be applied “to all people under our Constitution irrespective of their race, color, politics, or religion. That is, for us, the essence of the present opinion of the Court.”

Neither the Gazette or Democrat carried any reaction from City leaders. There was a City Board meeting the evening of the decision. If it was mentioned, the minutes from the meeting do not reflect it.

Arkansas Attorney General Bruce Bennett, on the other hand, was very vocal in his outrage. The city laws were known as Bennett Laws because they had been drafted by him as ways to intimidate African Americans and others he viewed as agitators.

In 1960 Bennett was challenging Governor Orval Faubus for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.  In reaction to the to the Supreme Court he vowed that, if elected Governor, he would “de-integrate” (a term he proudly took credit for coining) the state.

For his part, and not to be outdone by the AG, Faubus fretted that the Court’s decision meant that Communists would be able to give money to the NAACP.

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Remembering Daisy Bates

Today is the Daisy Bates Holiday in the State of Arkansas.  So it is an appropriate day to pay tribute to Mrs. Bates, who played a leading role in the Little Rock Integration Crisis of 1957.

Daisy Lee Gatson Bates and her husband were important figures in the African American community in the capital city of Little Rock.  Realizing her intense involvement and dedication to education and school integration, Daisy was the chosen agent after nine black students were selected to attend and integrate a Little Rock High School.  Bates guided and advised the nine students, known as the Little Rock Nine, when they enrolled in 1957 at Little Rock Central High School. President Clinton presented the Little Rock Nine with the Congressional Gold Medal and spoke at the 40th anniversary of the desegregation while he was in office.

When Mrs. Bates died, a memorial service was held at Robinson Center on April 27, 2000.  Among the speakers were President Bill Clinton, Secretary of Transportation Rodney Slater, and Rev. Rufus K. Young, pastor of the Bethel AME Church.  Others in attendance included Lt. Gov. Winthrop Paul Rockefeller, Mayor Jim Dailey, Presidential diarist Janis Kearney, former senator and governor David Pryor, and five members of the Little Rock Nine:  Carlotta Walls Lanier, Ernest Green, Minnijean Brown Trickey, Jefferson Thomas, and Elizabeth Eckford.

It was during his remarks at the service that President Clinton announced he had asked that Bates’ south-central Little Rock home be designated as a national historic landmark.

Little Rock Look Back: A 1956 attempt at integrating LR schools

Arkansas Democrat photo by staff photographer Mr. Bisgood

Arkansas Democrat photo by staff photographer Mr. Bisgood

On Monday, January 23, 1956, twenty-seven African American students attempted to integrate four Little Rock schools.  By the end of the day, all four school principals had refused entry and some of the students had met with LRSD Superintendent Virgil Blossom.

Eight girls who were students at Horace Mann High School arrived at Central High at 9:30 am accompanied by Daisy Bates and Frank W. Smith both of the NAACP.  One male student attempted to integrate Little Rock Technical High School.  Four students arrived at Forest Heights Junior High (accompanied by three adults) and fourteen students attempted to integrate Forest Park Elementary (accompanied by four adults).  Neither the Arkansas Gazette nor the Arkansas Democrat broke down the age or gender of the junior high and elementary students.

Though all were referred to meet with Mr. Blossom, only the young women from Horace Mann visited with him.  After the conversation both he and Mrs. Bates declared the conversation had been friendly.   Mr. Blossom, in denying the request, noted that the Little Rock School District had a plan for integration. To allow them to integrate immediately would have been going against the plan.  The integration plan was connected to the completion of the new high school.  If it were ready to open in the fall of 1957, then integration at the high schools would start then.  The newspapers noted that there was no timeline for when it would extend down to the junior high and elementary levels.

That evening, Rev. J. C. Crenchaw, the president of the Little Rock NAACP, issued a statement.  In it he expressed frustration that the LRSD was vague on its timeline for integration.  He noted that the students lived near the schools which they tried to integrate and were therefore forced to travel several extra miles each day to attend school.  He also commented that the young man who attempted to enroll at Tech was not afforded the training available there at his current school.

The Arkansas Democrat ran a photo of the meeting with Mr. Blossom.  It identified the seven students who were pictured.  No mention was made as to whether the eighth student was present but not photographed, or if she did not attend the meeting.  As was the practice at the time, the addresses of the students were listed by their names.  Based on those addresses, the students lived between 0.4 and 0.9 miles from Central High School and were between 2.1 and 3.2 miles away from Horace Mann High School.  Of the seven students in the photo, two were seniors, three were juniors, and three were sophomores.  None of the students named became part of the Little Rock Nine who did integrate Central High twenty-one months later.

On January 24, the Gazette editorial writer opined they were glad for the amicable nature of the conversations. They hoped it did not affect the good race relations in Little Rock.  The writer concluded by saying they did not want it to incite extremists (but did not specify if they viewed the extremists as being for or against integration.)

Little Rock Look Back: Tornado lays waste to parts of Little Rock on January 21, 1999

Image result for january 1999 tornado little rockIn their 5pm and 6pm forecasts, Little Rock TV station meteorologists had warned of the potential for severe weather on the evening of January 21, 1999.

But no one seemed prepared for what happened.

A tornado cut through a huge swath of Little Rock stretching from the southwest portion of the city up through the Quapaw Quarter and beyond.  At least four people died in Pulaski County and over 150 houses were destroyed.

A Harvest Foods collapsed trapping people inside the store as storms pummeled survivors with rain and wind.  Stories were ripped off buildings. Sides of houses were peeled back.  Cars and trees were tossed about as if they were made of papier mache.

While not short-changing all of the devastation throughout the city – and there was a great deal – there were several cultural institutions and historic sites which were hit by this system.

  • A portion of the roof of Daisy Bates’ home was ripped off. Some of her books and papers were sucked up by the wind and scattered throughout the storm’s path.
  • The Governor’s Mansion sustained damage in addition to losing power and phones.
  • The original Fire Station 2 in MacArthur Park, then still serving as a museum storage facility, lost a portion of its roof and sustained water damage
  • The Arsenal Building, in the process of being prepared to become the MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History, lost a portion of its roof.  The storm’s impact also set off the sprinkler system in the building causing flooding throughout the interior of the building.
  • The Arkansas Arts Center sustained minor damage. The museum was hosting a reception that night for the opening of an exhibit. Many trees in MacArthur Park fell that evening, including several on cars of patrons present for the party.

It would take months and years for the areas hit by this storm to be rebuilt and recover.

The Museum of Discovery – which would have been impacted by the tornado if it had not relocated to the River Market District two years earlier – has an exhibit which allows persons to relive this night.  Tornado Alley Theater provides a riveting seven-minute experience for museum visitors as they relive the tornado that devastated the Governor’s Mansion district area of downtown Little Rock in January 1999. Hear the stories of people who survived the storm and see TV footage of the event as broadcast on THV 11 that fateful evening.

MLK in Little Rock

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

Today is the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday.  It is an apt time to think about Dr. King and Little Rock.

A friend of L. C. and Daisy Bates, he attended the 1958 Central High School graduation to witness Ernest Green receiving a diploma. Each senior only received eight tickets to the ceremony at Quigley Stadium, and he was one of Green’s. Dr. King was in the state to address the Arkansas AM&N (now UAPB) graduation earlier in the day.

His attendance was briefly mentioned in the local press, but there was no media photo of him at the ceremony.  The Little Rock School District limited the press to one Democrat and one Gazette photographer. Other press were limited to the press box.

There is a photo of Ernest Green with Daisy Bates and Dr. King (pictured on this entry).

In 1968, when Dr. King was assassinated, Little Rock did not see the unrest that many cities did.  Part of that was probably due to quick action by Governor Winthrop Rockefeller. The Governor released a statement fairly quickly expressing his sorrow at the tragedy and calling for a day of mourning. He also made the State Capitol available for the NAACP to have a public memorial, as well as worked with a group of ministers to host an interdenominational service.

Little Rock Mayor Martin Borchert issued a statement as well:

We in Little Rock are disturbed about the incident in Memphis. We are disturbed regardless of where it had happened.  Killing is not the Christian solution to any of our problems today.

In Little Rock, we feel we have come a long way in 10 years toward solving some of our problems of living and working together regardless of race, creed or color.

The city Board of Directors in Little Rock has pledged itself toward continuing efforts to make Little Rock a better place in which to live and work for all our citizens.

We feel the efforts of all thus far have proved we can live in harmony in Little Rock and are confident such an incident as has happened will not occur in Little Rock.  We will continue our most earnest efforts toward the full needs of our citizens.

The day after Dr. King was assassinated, a group of Philander Smith College students undertook a spontaneous walk to the nearby State Capitol, sang “We Shall Overcome” and then walked back to the campus.  President Ernest T. Dixon, Jr., of the college then hosted a 90 minute prayer service in the Wesley Chapel on the campus.

On the Sunday following Dr. King’s assassination, some churches featured messages about Dr. King.  As it was part of Holy Week, the Catholic Bishop for the Diocese of Little Rock had instructed all priests to include messages about Dr. King in their homilies. Some protestant ministers did as well. The Arkansas Gazette noted that Dr. Dale Cowling of Second Baptist Church downtown (who had received many threats because of his pro-integration stance in 1957) had preached about Dr. King and his legacy that morning.

Later that day, Governor Rockefeller participated in a public memorial service on the front steps of the State Capitol. The crowd, which started at 1,000 and grew to 3,000 before it was over, was racially mixed. At the conclusion of the ceremony, Governor and Mrs. Rockefeller joined hands with African American ministers and sang “We Shall Overcome.”

That evening, Trinity Episcopal Cathedral was the site of an interdenominational service which featured Methodist Bishop Rev. Paul V. Galloway, Catholic Bishop Most Rev. Albert L. Fletcher, Episcopal Bishop Rt. Rev. Robert R. Brown, Rabbi E. E. Palnick of Temple B’Nai Israel, Gov. Rockefeller, Philander Smith President Dixon, and Rufus King Young of Bethel AME Church.

Earlier in the day, Mayor Borchert stated:

We are gathered this afternoon to memorialize and pay tribute to a great American….To achieve equality of opportunity for all will require men of compassion and understanding on the one hand and men of reason and desire on the other.

Mayor Borchert pledged City resources to strive for equality.

Another Little Rock Mayor, Sharon Priest, participated in a ceremony 24 years after Dr. King’s assassination to rename High Street for Dr. King in January 1992.  The name change had been approved in March 1991 to take effect in January 1992 in conjunction with activities celebrating Dr. King’s life.  At the ceremony, Daisy Bates and Annie Abrams joined with other civil rights leaders and city officials to commemorate the name change.

LR Culture Vulture turns 7

The Little Rock Culture Vulture debuted on Saturday, October 1, 2011, to kick off Arts & Humanities Month.

The first feature was on the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, which was kicking off its 2011-2012 season that evening.  The program consisted of Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 4 in A, Op. 90, Rossini’s, Overture to The Italian Girl in Algiers, Puccini’s Chrysanthemums and Respighi’s Pines of Rome.  In addition to the orchestra musicians, there was an organ on stage for this concert.

Since then, there have been 10,107 persons/places/things “tagged” in the blog.  This is the 3,773rd entry. (The symmetry to the number is purely coincidental–or is it?)  It has been viewed over 288,600 times, and over 400 readers have made comments.  It is apparently also a reference on Wikipedia.

The most popular pieces have been about Little Rock history and about people in Little Rock.

Little Rock Look Back: Little Rock Nine enter Central High for First Full Day

After legal challenges, stymied attempts, and literally countless threats, it was on Wednesday, September 25, 1957, that the group of African American students known as the Little Rock Nine actually entered Little Rock Central High School for a full day.  They would return each day through the end of the school year.

Unlike September 23, when they went in a side door before being hustled a few hours later for their own protection, on September 25 they walked in the front door.  They did so escorted by members of the 101st Airborne who had been ordered to Little Rock by President Eisenhower.

Much has been written about the events of September 25, 1957.  Several of the participants that day have penned memoirs.

Whatever I would write today would pale in comparison to the accounts of those who lived it.

So I just end this with words of gratitude to:

  • Melba Pattillo Beals
  • Elizabeth Eckford
  • Ernest Green
  • Gloria Ray Karlmark
  • Carlotta Walls LaNier
  • Terrence Roberts
  • Jefferson Thomas
  • Minnijean Brown Trickey
  • Thelma Mothershed Wair

Thank you to these nine pioneers, who were simply teenagers trying to have equal education opportunities.  Thank you to their parents, their families, their pastors, their legal team, their support system.  Thank you to Daisy and L. C. Bates, Wiley Branton Sr. Chris Mercer, and Thurgood Marshall for the roles they played.

While Jefferson Thomas passed away in 2010, the other eight continue to tell their stories and speak truth to audiences ranging from one to thousands and ages from pre-school to seniors.