Final Horace Mann High School Graduation – June 2, 1971

Ms. Wordlow and Mr. Wilkins

On Wednesday, June 2, 1971, the final graduation took place for Horace Mann High School. Opened in the spring of 1956, it had served as Little Rock’s all African American high school for fifteen years. (Since the high schools reopened in August 1959, Central and Hall High had both been gradually increasing the number of African American students each year but students zoned for Mann continued to have the opportunity to attend that school.)

Two-hundred and forty students made up the final class. The graduation took place at Barton Coliseum on June 2.  Three days earlier, the Baccalaureate service took place at the school. The top graduate of the class was Samuel Ray Wilkins, with Eloise Wordlow ranked number two.

1971 marked the first graduating class at Little Rock’s newest high school, Parkview. The presence of that school helped hasten the end of Mann.  This was supposed to be the penultimate year for Mann, under the Little Rock School District’s plan. But in the summer of 1971, a federal court order mandated that Mann no longer serve as a one race high school effective the start of the 1971-1972 school year.

Because of the court order hastening the end of Mann as a high school, there was no opportunity to reflect on Mann’s legacy or note the final graduation.

So the group which thought they would be the final Mann class was instead split up to attend Central, Hall, and Parkview.  Mann was made into a junior high effective that new school year. The students who were supposed to be Mann’s last class have called themselves the 1972 Horace Mann Transitional Class and still have reunions.

Mann had followed Paul Laurence Dunbar High School as Little Rock’s African American high school. That facility had opened in 1929 with a junior high and junior college also in the same building.  Following the opening of Mann, Dunbar became solely a junior high.  The junior college component was dropped in 1955 with no publicly stated reason.

Prior to Dunbar, there had been Gibbs School which served as a primary and secondary school for Little Rock’s African American students beginning in the early 1900s. Eventually the elementary students were located in another building, which was the precursor to today’s Gibbs Elementary School.

Before Gibbs School, Capitol Hill and Union schools both existed at roughly the same time. Both included elementary, junior high, and high school students. After Gibbs School opened, they continued to serve as schools. Capitol Hill lasted as an elementary school into the 1940s.

Women Making History: Florence Price

Florence Price was the first African-American female composer to have a symphonic composition performed by a major American symphony orchestra.

In 2016, when Robinson Center reopened, a new atrium was named in her honor. It is adjacent to the ballroom named after her childhood friend Dr. William Grant Still.  Having a space named after Price at Robinson is especially appropriate since one of the first concerts given there in 1940, by contralto Marian Anderson, featured songs written by Price.

Florence Price was born in Little Rock on April 9, 1887, to James H. Smith and Florence Gulliver Smith. Her father was a dentist in Little Rock, while her mother taught piano and worked as a schoolteacher and a businesswoman.

As a child, Florence received musical instruction from her mother, and she published musical pieces while in high school. She attended Capitol Hill School in Little Rock, graduating as valedictorian in 1903. Florence then studied at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, Massachusetts, In 1907, she received degrees as an organist and as a piano teacher.

After graduation, Florence returned to Arkansas to teach music. After stints in Cotton Plant, North Little Rock and Atlanta, GA, Smith returned to Little Rock in 1912 to marry attorney Thomas Jewell Price on September 25, 1912. Her husband worked with Scipio Jones.

While in Little Rock, Price established a music studio, taught piano lessons, and wrote short pieces for piano. Despite her credentials, she was denied membership into the Arkansas State Music Teachers Association because of her race.

The Prices moved to Chicago, Illinois, in 1927. There, Price seemed to have more professional opportunity for growth despite the breakdown and eventual dissolution of her marriage. She pursued further musical studies at the American Conservatory of Music and Chicago Musical College and established herself in the Chicago area as a teacher, pianist, and organist. In 1928, G. Schirmer, a major publishing firm, accepted for publication Price’s “At the Cotton Gin.” In 1932, Price won multiple awards in competitions sponsored by the Rodman Wanamaker Foundation for her Piano Sonata in E Minor, a large-scale work in four movements, and her more important work, Symphony in E Minor.

The latter work premiered with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on June 15, 1933, and the orchestras of Detroit, Michigan; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and Brooklyn, New York, performed subsequent symphonic works by Price. This was the first time a black woman had presented her work on such a stage. In this regard,

Price’s art songs and spiritual arrangements were frequently performed by well-known artists of the day. For example, contralto Marian Anderson featured Price’s spiritual arrangement “My Soul’s Been Anchored in the Lord” in her famous performance on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC on Easter Sunday, April 9, 1939. European orchestras later played Price’s works.

This national and international recognition made her more popular back home, and in 1935, the Alumni Association of Philander Smith College in Little Rock sponsored Price’s return to Arkansas, billing her as “noted musician of Chicago” and presenting her in a concert of her own compositions at Dunbar High School.

In her lifetime, Price composed more than 300 works, ranging from small teaching pieces for piano to large-scale compositions such as symphonies and concertos, as well as instrumental chamber music, vocal compositions, and music for radio. Price died in Chicago on June 3, 1953, while planning a trip to Europe.

Women Making History – Lillian Dees McDermott

Lillian Dees McDermott served on the Little Rock School Board from 1922 to 1946.

Not only was she the first woman to be elected to the School Board, she was also one of the longest-serving members of the board.  She was elected several times to serve as President of the School Board, becoming the first woman to have that title.

During one of her terms, plans to construct Little Rock High School (now Central) and Dunbar High School (now Dunbar Middle School) were finalized.

In her capacity as President, she had to sign contracts. She became the first woman in the country to sign a multi-million dollar contract for a public building project.  McDermott Elementary is named in her memory.

LR Women Making History – Florence Price

Florence-PriceFlorence Price was the first African-American female composer to have a symphonic composition performed by a major American symphony orchestra.  In 2016, when Robinson Center reopened, a new atrium was named in her honor. It is adjacent to the ballroom named after her childhood friend Dr. William Grant Still.  Having a space named after Price at Robinson is especially appropriate since one of the first concerts given there in 1940, by contralto Marian Anderson, featured songs written by Price.

Florence Price was born in Little Rock on April 9, 1887, to James H. Smith and Florence Gulliver Smith. Her father was a dentist in Little Rock, while her mother taught piano and worked as a schoolteacher and a businesswoman.

As a child, Florence received musical instruction from her mother, and she published musical pieces while in high school. She attended Capitol Hill School in Little Rock, graduating as valedictorian in 1903. Florence then studied at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, Massachusetts, In 1907, she received degrees as an organist and as a piano teacher.

After graduation, Florence returned to Arkansas to teach music. After stints in Cotton Plant, North Little Rock and Atlanta, GA, Smith returned to Little Rock in 1912 to marry attorney Thomas Jewell Price on September 25, 1912. Her husband worked with Scipio Jones.

While in Little Rock, Price established a music studio, taught piano lessons, and wrote short pieces for piano. Despite her credentials, she was denied membership into the Arkansas State Music Teachers Association because of her race.

The Prices moved to Chicago, Illinois, in 1927. There, Price seemed to have more professional opportunity for growth despite the breakdown and eventual dissolution of her marriage. She pursued further musical studies at the American Conservatory of Music and Chicago Musical College and established herself in the Chicago area as a teacher, pianist, and organist. In 1928, G. Schirmer, a major publishing firm, accepted for publication Price’s “At the Cotton Gin.” In 1932, Price won multiple awards in competitions sponsored by the Rodman Wanamaker Foundation for her Piano Sonata in E Minor, a large-scale work in four movements, and her more important work, Symphony in E Minor.

The latter work premiered with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on June 15, 1933, and the orchestras of Detroit, Michigan; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and Brooklyn, New York, performed subsequent symphonic works by Price. This was the first time a black woman had presented her work on such a stage. In this regard,

Price’s art songs and spiritual arrangements were frequently performed by well-known artists of the day. For example, contralto Marian Anderson featured Price’s spiritual arrangement “My Soul’s Been Anchored in the Lord” in her famous performance on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC on Easter Sunday, April 9, 1939. European orchestras later played Price’s works.

This national and international recognition made her more popular back home, and in 1935, the Alumni Association of Philander Smith College in Little Rock sponsored Price’s return to Arkansas, billing her as “noted musician of Chicago” and presenting her in a concert of her own compositions at Dunbar High School.

In her lifetime, Price composed more than 300 works, ranging from small teaching pieces for piano to large-scale compositions such as symphonies and concertos, as well as instrumental chamber music, vocal compositions, and music for radio. Price died in Chicago on June 3, 1953, while planning a trip to Europe.

Women’s History Month – Lillian Dees McDermott

glass-mcdermottLillian Dees McDermott served on the Little Rock School Board from 1922 to 1946.

Not only was she the first woman to be elected to the School Board, she was also one of the longest-serving members of the board.  She was elected several times to serve as President of the School Board, becoming the first woman to have that title.  During one of her terms, plans to construct Little Rock High School (now Central) and Dunbar High School (now Dunbar Middle School) were finalized.

In her capacity as President, she had to sign contracts. She became the first woman in the country to sign a multi-million dollar contract for a public building project.  McDermott Elementary is named in her memory.

Turkey Day Football in LR – An Overview

thanks-grid-lrc-lrh102 years ago, Little Rock High School (then located on Scott Street) kicked off a 69-year tradition of playing football on Thanksgiving Day.  (Though the date of Thanksgiving floats anywhere from the 22nd to the 28th, Thanksgiving Day 1914 was on November 26.)

From 1914 until 1933, the Little Rock High School Tigers played a variety of different schools.  Then from 1934 until 1957, they played North Little Rock. From 1958 until 1982, the Little Rock Central Tigers took on the Warriors of Little Rock Hall.

Thanksgiving Day football was a tradition not just for high schools in Little Rock but also all levels throughout the state and country.  The Friday after Thanksgiving, newspapers carried stories and scores for professional, college and high school football.  It was probably the only day of the year to see all three levels of football covered in the paper, and often high school games received the most ink.  This mix of football continued for decades.  In 1969, there were four football games played in Pulaski County on Thanksgiving Day: Little Rock Hall vs. Little Rock Central, Little Rock Catholic vs. North Little Rock, Horace Mann vs. Scipio Jones, and the Arkansas Razorbacks vs. Texas Tech.

By the 1970s, both high school and college football games on Thanksgiving were on the wane.  While college games on Turkey Day have regained some popularity, they are nowhere near approaching the level they once had.  High school football on Thanksgiving disappeared in Arkansas following the 1982 game between Hall and Central.  That rivalry had been the final series on Turkey Day to still be played.

While they lasted, Thanksgiving Day high school football games were civic focal points. They were about bragging rights.  For students who had grown up attending the games, the chance to play or cheer in a Turkey Day classic was a rite of passage.  Alumni home from college or visiting the family for Thanksgiving would descend on the stadium ensuring the largest attendance of the season.

High school football on Thanksgiving Day in Little Rock tells the tale of not just football; it reflects changes in the city and society.  What started out as two small high schools from neighboring cities changed as both schools grew. The addition of a second Little Rock high school reflected the city’s growth.  (Indeed the 1954 Little Rock High School yearbook, in discussing the school’s new designation as Central High, mentions vaguely that the second high school would be built at some yet to be determined location in “west” Little Rock.)

The presence of segregated high schools in separate but unequal football rivalries (lasting nearly two decades after the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board decision) is an indictment of an unjust parallel education system.  As Little Rock continued to grow and diversify, the two high schools playing on Thanksgiving were no longer always the predominant schools in football – or other activities.  With state championships once again on the line, the last few years of the Hall and Central Thanksgiving rivalry were, in a way, a return to the halcyon days of the early faceoffs (though this time, thankfully, with fully integrated teams). In addition to trading the top spots in football, the two schools were piling accolades. In fact, all three Little Rock public high schools had achieved a stasis that inadvertently rotated areas of excellence academically, athletically and artistically fairly equally among the three.

There were undercurrents at work that hinted at future instabilities to come.  Indeed by 1982, the same year of the final game, Little Rock had filed suit against the North Little Rock and the Pulaski County Special School Districts claiming the schools in those neighboring districts were siphoning off white students from the Little Rock schools. The ensuing realignment of schools and districts would probably have brought an end to Central vs. Hall games even if athletic reclassification had not.

Central is now much larger than Hall, Parkview is a magnet school, two formerly county high schools (and several elementary schools and junior highs) were brought into the LR school district in the late 1980s.  Where once the Little Rock high schools were roughly equal in enrollment, they now are so varied they play in three different classifications.

It is up to the alternative historians to envision what continued Turkey Day classics would have looked like after 1982. Little Rock has grown and diversified. There are six public high schools and five private high schools playing football within the Little Rock city limits each season. With all these competing interests it is unlikely to envision the same citywide level of interest in one football game.

But back in the day…

Black History Month Spotlight – Horace Mann High School

Mann-SignThe new Arkansas Civil Rights History Audio Tour was launched in November 2015. Produced by the City of Little Rock and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock allows the many places and stories of the City’s Civil Rights history to come to life an interactive tour.  This month, during Black History Month, the Culture Vulture looks at some of the stops on this tour which focus on African American history.

Horace Mann Senior High School opened in 1956 as one of two new Little Rock public high schools, after the 1954 U. S. Supreme Court Brown v. Board of Education school desegregation decision. Mann was built in the predominantly black eastern part of Little Rock, while Hall High was in a predominantly affluent and white western area of residence. This plan ensured that, in practical terms, both schools would remain racially segregated. The assignment of an all-black teaching faculty to Mann and an all-white teaching faculty to Hall underscored this intent.

After Mann was built, the school board transferred black students from Dunbar High, the city’s existing segregated black high school, to Mann. Dunbar then became a junior high school. Teachers were divided and reassigned, new principals were named, and the school mascots respectively became the “Dunbar Bobcats” and the “Horace Mann Bearcats.” The schools are now Horace Mann Arts and Science Magnet Middle School and the Dunbar International Studies Magnet Middle School. In 2012, both alumni groups combined to form the National Dunbar Horace Mann Alumni Association.

The app, funded by a generous grant from the Arkansas Humanities Council, was a collaboration among UALR’s Institute on Race and Ethnicity, the City of Little Rock, the Mayor’s Tourism Commission, and KUAR, UALR’s public radio station, with assistance from the Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau.