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.

Arkansas Heritage Month – The Architecture of Little Rock Central High School

centralentranceArchitecture is often overlooked when considering the arts, but it is definitely an art form.

Built in 1927 as Little Rock Senior High School, Central was named “America’s Most Beautiful High School” by the American Institute of Architects. The New York Times called it the most expensive high school built at the time.

Designed as a mix of Art Deco and Collegiate Gothic architectural styles, the building is two city blocks long and includes 150,000 square feet of floor space. The project involved most of Little Rock’s leading architects who were still practicing at the time: John Parks Almand, George H. Wittenberg and Lawson L. Delony, Eugene John Stern, and George R. Mann.  Over the years, different architects would take credit for various facets of the building.  Given the size of the project, there was plenty of work for each architect to do.

More than 36 million pounds of concrete and 370 tons of steel went into the building’s construction. The building contained 150,000 square feet of floor space, upon its completion. It cost $1.5 million to construct in 1927. The school received extensive publicity upon its opening. An article in the Arkansas Gazette said, “we have hundreds of journalists in our fair city for the dedication” of the new high school.

At its construction, the auditorium seated 2,000 people between a main level and a balcony.  The stage was sixty feet deep and 160 feet long so that it could be used gymnasium. From 1927 until the opening of Robinson Auditorium in 1940, the auditorium would be Little Rock’s main site for hosting performances by musical and theatrical groups.

Subsequent additions would include a separate gymnasium, a library, and a football stadium. In 1953 the school’s name was changed to Little Rock Central High School, in anticipation of construction of a new high school for students, Hall High School.

In 1977, the school was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and it was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1982. These were in recognition of desegregation events which took place in the school in 1957.

In 1998, President William Jefferson Clinton signed legislation designating the school and visitor center across the street as a National Historic Site to “preserve, protect, and interpret for the benefit, education, and inspiration of present and future generations…its role in the integration of public schools and the development of the Civil Rights movement in the United States.”

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.

Today at noon – Bill Worthen discusses Historic Arkansas Museum for Butler Center Legacies & Lunch

Bill-Worthen_K0A4687-webAt Legacies & Lunch, Bill Worthen, director of the Historic Arkansas Museum, will discuss the museum’s history, placing emphasis on Louise Loughborough, founder of the museum, and Ed Cromwell, who led the museum after Loughborough’s death.

Worthen, a Little Rock native, is a graduate of Hall High School and Washington University, St. Louis. After teaching high school in Pine Bluff for three years, Worthen became director of what was then known as the Arkansas Territorial Restoration in 1972. In 1981, the organization became the first history museum in Arkansas to be accredited by the American Association of Museums. The museum was renamed the Historic Arkansas Museum in 2001 to reflect its expanded facility and mission. Worthen’s current research interests are the bowie knife, sometimes called the Arkansas toothpick, and the Arkansas Traveler, in its many forms.

Legacies & Lunch is free, open to the public, and supported in part by the Arkansas Humanities Council. Programs are held from noon-1 p.m. on the first Wednesday of each month. Attendees are invited to bring a sack lunch; drinks and dessert are provided. For more information, contact 918-3033.

Black History Month Spotlight – E. Lynn Harris

bhm lynnE. Lynn Harris was born in Flint, Michigan and raised, along with three sisters, in Little Rock. A graduate of Hall High School, he attended the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville where he was the school’s first black yearbook editor, the first black male Razorbacks cheerleader, and the president of his fraternity. He graduated with honors with a degree in journalism.

Harris sold computers for IBM, Hewlett-Packard, and AT&T for 13 years while living in Dallas, Washington, D.C. and Atlanta. He finally quit his sales job to write his first novel, Invisible Life, and, failing to find a publisher, he published it himself in 1991 and sold it mostly at black-owned bookstores, beauty salons, and book clubs before he was “discovered” by Anchor Books. Anchor published Invisible Life as a trade paperback in 1994, and thus his career as an author was “officially” launched.

Invisible Life was followed by Just As I Am (1994), And This Too Shall Pass (1996), If This World Were Mine (1997), and Abide With Me (1999), all published by Doubleday. All of Harris’s books were bestsellers. Harris’s sixth novel, Not A Day Goes By (July 2000) debuted at #2 on the New York Times bestseller list and was a #1 Publishers Weekly bestseller for two consecutive weeks. His seventh novel, Any Way the Wind Blows (July 2001), also debuted at #2 on the New York Times bestseller list. His other books included What Becomes Of The Brokenhearted – A Memoir (2003); I Say a Little Prayer (2006); Just Too Good To Be True (2008); Basketball Jones (2009); Mama Dearest (2009) (posthumously released) and In My Father’s House (2010) (posthumously released).

In 1999, the University of Arkansas honored Harris with a Citation of Distinguished Alumni for outstanding professional achievement, and in October 2000, he was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame.  He died in July 2009 while in California for meetings. An autopsy determined it was due to heart disease.

For more on E. Lynn Harris and other inductees into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame, visit the permanent exhibit at the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center. That museum is an agency of the Department of Arkansas Heritage.