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.)

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.)

Black History Month Spotlight – Philander Smith College

reynoldslibraryphilandersmithThe 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.

Philander Smith College is Little Rock’s oldest historically black educational institution. It was established in 1877 as Walden Seminary, by the African Methodist Episcopal Church to educate ministers. Its name changed after an endowment in 1882 by the widow of Illinois philanthropist Philander Smith. Wesley Chapel has always been associated with the college’s activities. The enslaved William Wallace Andrews founded Wesley in 1854 on land donated by his owner, U.S. Senator Chester Ashley. In 1864, parishioners celebrated their freedom with a “Parade of Emancipation.”

Pastors at Wesley included Rev. J. C. Crenchaw, president of the Little Rock NAACP, and Rev. Negail Riley, leader of the Black United Fund. In the 1960’s, Philander Smith students participated in “sit-ins” at downtown lunch counters.

Noted alumni include Dr. Joycelyn Elders, former U.S. surgeon general; professional athletes Elijah Pitts of the Green Bay Packers; Hubert “Geese” Ausbie of the Harlem Globetrotters; and Milton Pitts Crenchaw, a Tuskeegee Airman; James Hal Cone, a pioneer of black liberation theology; Lottie Shackelford, former Mayor of Little Rock; Al Bell, founder of Stax Records and former president of Motown Records; and Stephanie Flowers, Arkansas State Senator.

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