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.)

The Old State House Holiday Open House is Sunday, December 2

No automatic alt text available.Help ring in the holiday season at the Old State House Museum on Sunday, December 2, at Holiday Open House!

Visitors will find the Old State House colorfully decorated for the season, and local music groups will perform delightful carols. Fun, hands-on activities will be available to children; they can create unique holiday cards and more.

The hours are 1pm to 5pm, and admission is free.

Schedule of performances at Old State House Museum:

1:30 — Bethel Middle School Bryant
2:00 — Little Rock Central High School Madrigals
2:30 — Sweet Adelines, Top of the Rock
3:00 — Clarksville High School Choir
3:30 — Forest Heights STEAM Middle School Choir
4:00 — JA Fair High School Choir
4:30 — Pine Bluff High School Choir

The Old State House Museum is an agency of the Department of Arkansas Heritage.  A trolley will be available to take patrons between Old State House MuseumHistoric Arkansas Museum and Mosaic Templars Cultural Center, as well as the Arkansas Governor’s Mansion, at no charge

Little Rock Look Back: 1959 School district patrons show support of fired teachers

Arkansas Gazette photo of some of the patrons leaving Bale Elementary dedication

Following the May 5, 1959, firing of 44 administrators, teachers and staff, sections of the Little Rock community continued to coalesce in opposition to the actions taken by three members of the Little Rock School Board.

Later the evening of May 5, at a ceremony to dedicate Williams Elementary, Everett Tucker spoke against the teacher purge. His remarks were greeted enthusiastically by the patrons of the school.

On May 6, 1959, approximately 400 district patrons filled the auditorium at Forest Heights Junior High for a meeting. They expressed their opposition to the firing of the district employees. While the sight of the hands raised in support of the fired employees was an impressive visual, there was more community response to come.

May 7, 1959, had been set as the date for the dedication of the new Hardin Bale Elementary School.  School Board President Ed McKinley, who had been one of the three who fired the 44 employees, was scheduled to give remarks at the ceremony.  As he was starting the remarks, some patrons stood and challenged him.  Then approximately 75 of them got up and walked out.   McKinley then proceeded to use his remarks to defend his actions and to attack opponents.

Both Williams Elementary and Forest Heights Junior High served the more moderate-leaning Pulaski Heights neighborhood. That they would be in support of the fired employees was less of a surprise.  It was a bit more unexpected that Bale Elementary patrons reacted in the way they did.  That neighborhood was more working class and zoned for Central High, two elements that segregationist forces had been counting on for allies.

Mr. McKinley’s remarks were so strident that fellow School Board member Judge Robert Laster called a press conference distancing himself from Mr. McKinley.  He used that opportunity to also criticize Mr. Tucker, Ted Lamb, and Russell Matson for what he termed the politicization of the Williams Elementary event.  After Judge Laster’s comments, the remaining member, Ben Rowland, expressed support for Mr. McKinley. He further stated that he, Mr. McKinley and Judge Laster had previously discussed what Mr. McKinley would mention in his Bale Elementary remarks.

With a school board in turmoil, teachers uncertain as to the legality of their contracts or non-renewal of them, and civic organizations largely calling for the reversal of the firings, the Little Rock education scene was in turmoil.  There was talk swirling through Little Rock about the need to recall school board members.  But who would take the lead on this?

Little Rock Look Back: 27 students attempt to integrate LR schools in 1956

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.)

ARTISTRY IN THE ROCK this week – Little Rock School District showcases student creativity

Artistry In the Rock BannerThe Little Rock School District celebrates the creativity and talent of its students this week with Artistry in the Rock.

Tonight, April 21, there is a scholarship fundraiser featuring I J Routen and MUSED at the Afterthought.  Tickets are $10.  Showtimes are 7:30pm and 9:30pm.

Wednesday through Friday at the Metroplex Event Center, there will be performances.

Wednesday – April 23

  • 10:00 a.m. Jazz Central
  • 10:30 a.m. Mallory Baker, piano solo
  • 10:40 a.m. Central Choir
  • 11:00 a.m. Jefferson Orff Ensemble
  • 11:20 a.m. McDermott Choir
  • 11:40 a.m. Mabelvale Choir
  • 12:00 noon Parkview Dance
  • 12:20 p.m. Pulaski Heights Middle School Band

 

Thursday – April 24

  • 10:00 a.m. Chicot Stars
  • 10:30 a.m. Western Hills Eagle Band
  • 11:00 a.m. Romine Choir
  • 11:20 a.m. Booker Drama
  • 11:40 a.m. Meadowcliff Choir and Percussion Ensemble
  • 12:00 noon Forest Heights Band

 

Friday – April 25

  • 10:00 a.m. Parkview Musical Collaboration
  • 11:10 a.m. Watson Capercita Roja-Orff Ensemble
  • 11:30 a.m. Rockefeller Orff and Percussion Ensembles
  • 11:50 a.m. Pulaski Heights Elementary
  • 12:10 p.m. Dunbar Band Band

 

Wednesday through Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., there will be a Student Art Gallery .

 

On Friday, April 25 at 5:30 p.m., there will be a Jazz R US Reception and Silent Auction.

This free jazz reception for adults at the Metroplex Event Center will feature a performance by Dr. Danny Fletcher and Jazz R US.  Refreshments and heavy hors d’oeuvres will be served.  Teh silent auction will feature faculty and student artwork.  Proceeds will benefit the Dr. Morris Holmes Artistry Scholarship fund.