Little Rock Look Back: School Board Election of 1958

The regularly scheduled Little Rock School Board election of 1958 took place on Saturday, December 6 of that year.  While other school boards throughout the state generally had just their regular two positions on the ballot that day, Little Rock had a unique situation with all six seats being open.

In November, five of the members of the school board resigned out of frustration. They were caught between federal court orders compelling integration at the high school level and state laws which openly forbade it (and allowed for the closing of the high schools to keep them segregated).

The one remaining member was leaving office in December because he was about to take a seat in Congress.  Dr. Dale Alford had unseated incumbent Brooks Hays by running as a write in candidate in the general election.

Grainger Williams of the Chamber of Commerce worked with Adolphine Fletcher Terry and the Women’s Emergency Committee to recruit candidates to run for the six seats. They sought people who would work to reopen the schools.  The five who resigned had done so a mere two days prior to the filing deadline.  The “business-civic” slate which filed for the six seats were Ted Lamb, Billy Rector, Everett Tucker, Russell Matson, Margaret Stephens and Ed McKinley.  The latter was seeking Alford’s seat and was the only one unopposed.

There were a total of thirteen candidates who filed for the six seats.  On November 30, the pro-segregationist Capital Citizens’ Council endorsed Ed McKinley, Pauline Woodson, Ben D. Rowland Sr., Margaret Morrison, C. C. Railey, and R. W. Laster.  An offshoot of the CCC, the State’s Rights Council offered its own endorsements including George P. Branscum, who had once been a CCC officer.

In what the GAZETTE called “Little Rock’s Strangest School Board Election,” voters chose Laster, McKinley, and Rowland from the CCC-backed list and Lamb, Tucker, and Matson.  The latter three had been labeled by Gov. Faubus as “integrationists.”

Many of the races were close.  Laster won when the results from the final precinct were counted.  Losing candidates on both sides of the issue challenged the results.  Mrs. Stephens had lost to Laster by 81 one votes.  Rector paid for her race and his to be recounted.  The recount took two days with seven 4-man teams doing the work by hand.  But the results stood.

There were approximately 42,500 voters in the district.  The election drew 14,300 voters. That was double the usual 7,000 voters who participated in school board elections.

Though disappointed that only three of their candidates had won, members of the WEC and their allies took comfort in the fact they had elected three moderates to the School Board less than three months after the group was founded.

An evenly divided School Board was set to take office later in the month.  But the odd elections during the 1958-59 school year involving the Little Rock School District were far from over.

 

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Little Rock Look Back: Wilbur D. Mills

While later known more as a punchline due to personal fallibilities, for decades Wilbur D. Mills was one of the most powerful men in the world.  As the chair of the House Ways and Means Committee from 1958 to 1975, he was the architect not only of an overhaul of the tax code, but also determined ways to finance Medicare, Medicaid, and many other federal programs of the Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon and Ford years.

Wilbur Daigh Mills was born in Kensett on May 24, 1909.  When Mills went to Congress at the age of 29, he was the youngest man elected to that time.  A scant four years later he joined the Ways and Means Committee.

Because Mills rarely had an opponent (only 1942, 1966, and 1974), he was able to focus on learning the ins and outs of the tax code. As long as he delivered some federal dollars to his largely rural district every so often, he did not have to preoccupy himself with the daily issues many in Congress face.  It was not until 1963, when Arkansas lost two of its six congressional seats, that Mills had Little Rock in his district. Prior to that, Searcy had been the largest city he represented.  (There had been concern that Rep. Dale Alford, who had upset incumbent Brooks Hays in 1958 before losing his seat due to reapportionment four years later might challenge Mills. But Alford opted to retire instead of taking on the powerful Mills.)

President Kennedy’s visit to Little Rock and Greers Ferry in October 1963 was the result of bargaining with Congressman Mills over some tax policy.  Mills gave in to JFK a bit, and JFK agreed to come to Arkansas to speak in Little Rock and at the dedication of two dams.  In recognition of his national clout, Mills was briefly considered a contender for the 1972 Democratic nomination for President.

Though he probably struggled with alcoholism for years, he had been able to keep his behavior in check until 1974 when his car was stopped in Washington DC for not having its headlights on. Though Mills was not driving, he was inebriated.  Another occupant of the car, a stripper with the stage name Fanne Fox ran from the car and frolicked in the Tidal Basin.  It became fodder for worldwide headlines.

The incident happened about a month before Election Day, when Mills was facing Republican Judy Petty.  A contrite Mills spent the remaining days in the campaign in Arkansas and won re-election by 59% of the vote.  (Though later in November, he again was in the headlines when Fox pulled him on stage with her at a club in Boston.) In January 1975, he stepped down as Ways and Means Chair.

In 1976, he opted to retire from Congress and did not seek another term.  In retirement, he practiced law in Washington DC before eventually moving back to Kensett full-time.  He died in 1992.

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.

Little Rock Look Back: 44 Teachers fired by divided LRSD School Board in 1959

Arkansas Gazette coverage of the teacher purge

On Tuesday, May 5, 1959, the deeply divided Little Rock School Board met to consider contracts for the coming year.  The topic of contract renewal had been on the April agenda, but with two of the six members out of town, it had been delayed.

The 1958-1959 school year had been anything but routine in Little Rock.  To keep the high schools segregated, the city’s four high schools had been closed – first by action of Governor Orval Faubus and then by Little Rock voters.  Frustrated by actions taken at the State level, the School Board had resigned en masse by November 1958, except for the one member who had won a surprise write-in election to unseat Congressman Brooks Hays.  A new school board was elected in December and was equally divided between segregationists and those who felt the law and federal court rulings should be followed.

The May 5, 1959, School Board meeting began at 9am with a room packed full of spectators and was carried live on the radio.  There had been rumblings that the pro-segregation school board members were going to try to fire any teachers they viewed as in favor of desegregation.  Every vote in the morning session ended with a 3/3 vote as Everett Tucker, Russell Matson and Ted Lamb voted one way and the other three: Ed McKinley, Robert Laster and Ben Rowland, voted the other.

After lunch, Tucker, Matson and Lamb decided to leave the meeting. They saw no way to break the stalemate that was paralyzing the discussions. Upon advice of attorneys, they walked out. With only three members remaining, they three thought it end the meeting for lack of quorum.

School Board President Ed McKinley declared the remaining members a quorum. The trio alternated between open and closed sessions. At the end of the day, they had fired forty-four LRSD employees who they viewed as integrationists.  This included 39 whites and five African Americans.  Twenty-seven worked at Central High, while the other seventeen were scattered across other Little Rock schools.  Seven principals, thirty-four teachers, and three secretaries made up the group.  The meeting had lasted the entire day.  The afternoon Arkansas Democrat (with a mid-day deadline) carried a story pondering whether teachers would be fired.

At the same meeting, Superintendent Terrell Powell was fired.  He had taken the reins of the district in December 1958 after having been Hall High’s first principal.  Mr. Powell was replaced by Tom Alford, a former Jacksonville superintendent who was the father of congressman (and former LRSD school board member) Dale Alford.

During a portion of the school board meeting (which was at the corner of Eighth Street and Louisiana Street), phone calls were being made from the LRSD headquarters to a house a few blocks away.  That house was the home of Adolphine Fletcher Terry.  She was hosting an executive board meeting of the Women’s Emergency Committee that day.

Not ones to shy away on anything, the WEC executive board voted to condemn the firings and support the teachers.  Fairly quickly, the Parent Teachers Association of Little Rock, the Arkansas Education Association, League of Women Voters, and Little Rock Ministerial Alliance joined in the call condemning the action.  Leadership at the Little Rock Chamber of Commerce also joined in decrying the purge.

And the fallout was just beginning……

On Pulitzer Day, prizing Mount Holly Cemetery

The Pulitzer Prizes are to be announced today.  This year marks the 101st anniversary of the prizes, though not all of the current categories have been around since 1917.

Mount Holly Cemetery not only touts that it is the site of a whole host of elected officials, it is also the only place in Arkansas where two Pulitzer Prize recipients are buried. The cemetery is open every day, but a special visit to these two prize winner gravesites can be made on Sunday, April 30, during the Mount Holly Cemetery Association’s annual “Rest in Perpetuity” fundraiser picnic.

In 1939, John Gould Fletcher became the first Southern poet to win the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.  He was born into a prominent Little Rock family in 1886.  Fletcher was awarded the prize for his collection Selected Poems which was published by Farrar in 1938.  Two years earlier, he had been commissioned by the Arkansas Gazette to compose an epic poem about the history of Arkansas in conjunction with the state’s centennial.

Fletcher is buried next to his wife, author Charlie May Simon and his parents (his father was former Little Rock Mayor John Gould Fletcher).  Other relatives are buried nearby in the cemetery.

The other Pulitzer Prize winner buried in Mount Holly is J. N. Heiskell, the longtime editor of the Arkansas Gazette.  It was Heiskell, in fact, who asked Fletcher to compose the poem about Arkansas.  Heiskell served as editor of the Gazette from 1902 through 1972.  He died at the age of 100 in 1972.

Under his leadership, the Gazette earned two Pulitzer Prizes for its coverage of the 1957 desegregation of Little Rock Central High.  One was for Harry Ashmore’s editorial writing and the other was for Public Service.

Heiskell remained in charge of the Gazette until his death in 1972.  He is buried alongside his wife with other relatives nearby.  Also not too far from Mr. Heiskell are two of his nemeses, proving that death and cemeteries can be the great equalizer. In the early days of his Gazette stewardship, he often locked horns with Senator (and former Governor) Jeff Davis. Later in Mr. Heiskell’s career, he vehemently disagreed with Dr. Dale Alford, who had been elected to Congress on a segregationist platform.

Pulitzer Day – a good time to “Prize” Mount Holly Cemetery

The Pulitzer Prizes are to be announced today.  This year marks the 100th anniversary of the prizes, though not all of the current categories have been around since 1917.

Mount Holly Cemetery not only touts that it is the site of a whole host of elected officials, it is also the only place in Arkansas where two Pulitzer Prize recipients are buried. The cemetery is open every day, but a special visit to these two prize winner gravesites can be made on Sunday, April 30, during the Mount Holly Cemetery Association’s annual “Rest in Perpetuity” fundraiser picnic.

In 1939, John Gould Fletcher became the first Southern poet to win the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.  He was born into a prominent Little Rock family in 1886.  Fletcher was awarded the prize for his collection Selected Poems which was published by Farrar in 1938.  Two years earlier, he had been commissioned by the Arkansas Gazette to compose an epic poem about the history of Arkansas in conjunction with the state’s centennial.

Fletcher is buried next to his wife, author Charlie May Simon and his parents (his father was former Little Rock Mayor John Gould Fletcher).  Other relatives are buried nearby in the cemetery.

The other Pulitzer Prize winner buried in Mount Holly is J. N. Heiskell, the longtime editor of the Arkansas Gazette.  It was Heiskell, in fact, who asked Fletcher to compose the poem about Arkansas.  Heiskell served as editor of the Gazette from 1902 through 1972.  He died at the age of 100 in 1972.

Under his leadership, the Gazette earned two Pulitzer Prizes for its coverage of the 1957 desegregation of Little Rock Central High.  One was for Harry Ashmore’s editorial writing and the other was for Public Service.

Heiskell remained in charge of the Gazette until his death in 1972.  He is buried alongside his wife with other relatives nearby.  Also not too far from Mr. Heiskell are two of his nemeses, proving that death and cemeteries can be the great equalizer. In the early days of his Gazette stewardship, he often locked horns with Senator (and former Governor) Jeff Davis. Later in Mr. Heiskell’s career, he vehemently disagreed with Dr. Dale Alford, who had been elected to Congress on a segregationist platform.

Prizing Mount Holly Cemetery on Pulitzer Day

The Pulitzer Prizes are to be announced today.  This year marks the 100th announcement of the prizes, though not all of the current categories have been around since 1917.

Mount Holly Cemetery not only touts that it is the site of a whole host of elected officials, it is also the only place in Arkansas where two Pulitzer Prize recipients are buried. The cemetery is open every day, but a special visit to these two prize winner gravesites can be made next Sunday during the Mount Holly Cemetery Association’s annual “Rest in Perpetuity” fundraiser picnic.

In 1939, John Gould Fletcher became the first Southern poet to win the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.  He was born into a prominent Little Rock family in 1886.  Fletcher was awarded the prize for his collection Selected Poems which was published by Farrar in 1938.  Two years earlier, he had been commissioned by the Arkansas Gazette to compose an epic poem about the history of Arkansas in conjunction with the state’s centennial.

Fletcher is buried next to his wife, author Charlie May Simon and his parents (his father was former Little Rock Mayor John Gould Fletcher).  Other relatives are buried nearby in the cemetery.

The other Pulitzer Prize winner buried in Mount Holly is J. N. Heiskell, the longtime editor of the Arkansas Gazette.  It was Heiskell, in fact, who asked Fletcher to compose the poem about Arkansas.  Heiskell served as editor of the Gazette from 1902 through 1972.  He died at the age of 100 in 1972.

Under his leadership, the Gazette earned two Pulitzer Prizes for its coverage of the 1957 desegregation of Little Rock Central High.  One was for Harry Ashmore’s editorial writing and the other was for Public Service.

Heiskell remained in charge of the Gazette until his death in 1972.  He is buried alongside his wife with other relatives nearby.  Also not too far from Mr. Heiskell are two of his nemeses, proving that death and cemeteries can be the great equalizer. In the early days of his Gazette stewardship, he often locked horns with Senator (and former Governor) Jeff Davis. Later in Mr. Heiskell’s career, he vehemently disagreed with Dr. Dale Alford, who had been elected to Congress on a segregationist platform.