On September 7, 1959, a peaceful Labor Day in Little Rock was shattered by the explosions of three dynamite bombs.
The locations were Fire Chief Gene Nalley’s driveway on Baseline Road at 10:20pm, Baldwin Company offices at Fourth and Gaines at 10:53pm (where Little Rock Mayor Werner Knoop was a partner–the company is now known as Baldwin Shell), and the School District offices at 10:58pm (then located at Eighth and Louisiana streets).
Given the three targets, it was fairly quickly assumed that there was a connection between the bombings and the lingering effects of the 1957 integration crisis. In light of that, police officers were stationed at the homes of all Little Rock City Directors and School Board members.
The investigation into the bombings turned up a purported fourth location for a bomb. That was the office of Letcher Langford. (Culture Vulture Editorializing Note: This could have been a ploy to throw investigators off the scent. Langford was the only City Director who had been backed by segregationist candidates and had been openly hostile to the Women’s Emergency Committee — to the point of threatening them with legal action for not disclosing their membership rolls.)
Investigators determined that the bombing had been planned in late August by members of the Ku Klux Klan. Five individuals were arrested. They were J. D. Sims, Jesse Raymond Perry, John Taylor Coggins, Samuel Graydon Beavers, and E. A. Lauderdale. The latter had twice been an unsuccessful candidate for the City Board of Directors.
Sims pleaded guilty and started serving a prison term later in September 1959. Perry, Coggins and Beavers all went to trial in October and November. Each was found guilty. Their terms ranged from three to five years. Lauderdale was convicted, but appealed his decision. Though the Arkansas Supreme Court upheld the verdict against him, he did not start serving his sentence until the court decision in February 1961.
Governor Faubus commuted the sentences of Perry, Coggins and Beavers. All three served less than six months. Lauderdale’s sentence was reduced by Faubus so that he, too, was eligible for release after six months. Sims, who was first to plead, served the longest: nearly two years.
Sadly, this would not be the last bombing in Little Rock tied to 1957. In February 1960, Carlotta Walls’ house was bombed.