Little Rock Look Back: Classes resume in Little Rock high schools

On August 12, 1959, something remarkable and yet unremarkable happened.  Little Rock teenagers started the high school year.

After turmoil and no classes in 1958-1959 (dubbed the Lost Year), the state law allowing for schools to be shut down in order to keep them segregated had been overturned.

The six new school board members (all of whom had started since December 1958) decided to start classes in the middle of August instead of the traditional post-Labor Day start. The original start date of post-Labor Day was changed in an announcement on Monday, August 4.  Among the reasons was to get classes started before Gov. Faubus could convene the Arkansas General Assembly into special session and create more mischief in order to try to keep Little Rock’s high Schools segregated.

While it WAS important to have the schools reopened, the desegregation was minimal.  Originally, only three African Americans were admitted to Central High (Jefferson Thomas, Elizabeth Eckford, and Carlotta Walls, who had all been part of the Little Rock Nine) and only three were admitted to Hall High.  One of the three admitted to Central, Eckford, had enough credits due to correspondence courses, and did not enroll.

On August 12, about 1,000 segregationists attended a rally at the State Capitol hearing from Gov. Faubus and other speakers.  After it was over, about 250 marched or drove toward Central High School.  A block away from the school, they met a phalanx of police officers who turned them away.  When the marchers broke into rioters, the Fire Department turned its hoses on them. The police ended up arresting 24 people.  (This more active response by Police and Fire personnel was a marked difference from two years prior.)

After the school year started, the School Board interviewed over a dozen African American students who wished to transfer from Horace Mann to either Central, Hall, or Technical high schools.  Of these, three would be admitted to Central, including sophomore Sybil L. Jordan (now better known as Dr. Sybil Jordan Hampton).

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Little Rock Look Back: “Nine from Little Rock” wins an Oscar

On April 5, 1965, the Academy Award for Best Documentary, Short Subject went to the film “Nine from Little Rock.”

Narrated by Jefferson Thomas, Charles Guggenheim’s documentary looks at the nine African-American students who enrolled in Little Rock Central High School in 1957. Thomas, one of the students reflects on the state of race relations in the seven years that had elapsed (up to 1964).  The film also focuses on Ernest Green, Elizabeth Eckford and Thelma Mothershed.

Guggenheim both directed and co-wrote the film. The latter credit was shared with Shelby Storck, who also produced the film.   The film had been commissioned by George Stevens, Jr., for the United State Information Agency.

The Oscar that night was Guggenheim’s first of four.  His others would be for: 1968’s “Robert Kennedy Remembered” (Live Action Short), 1989’s “The Johnstown Flood” (Documentary Short) and 1994’s “A Time for Justice” (Documentary Short).  His son Davis Guggenheim won the Oscar for Documentary, Feature for An Inconvenient Truth.

The film was digitally restored by the Motion Picture Preservation Lab for the 50th anniversary of its win for Best Short Documentary at the 1965 Academy Awards.  It is available for purchase on DVD and can also be viewed in its entirety on YouTube

Remembering Daisy Bates

Today is the Daisy Bates Holiday in the State of Arkansas.  So it is an appropriate day to pay tribute to Mrs. Bates, who played a leading role in the Little Rock Integration Crisis of 1957.

Daisy Lee Gatson Bates and her husband were important figures in the African American community in the capital city of Little Rock.  Realizing her intense involvement and dedication to education and school integration, Daisy was the chosen agent after nine black students were selected to attend and integrate a Little Rock High School.  Bates guided and advised the nine students, known as the Little Rock Nine, when they enrolled in 1957 at Little Rock Central High School. President Clinton presented the Little Rock Nine with the Congressional Gold Medal and spoke at the 40th anniversary of the desegregation while he was in office.

When Mrs. Bates died, a memorial service was held at Robinson Center on April 27, 2000.  Among the speakers were President Bill Clinton, Secretary of Transportation Rodney Slater, and Rev. Rufus K. Young, pastor of the Bethel AME Church.  Others in attendance included Lt. Gov. Winthrop Paul Rockefeller, Mayor Jim Dailey, Presidential diarist Janis Kearney, former senator and governor David Pryor, and five members of the Little Rock Nine:  Carlotta Walls Lanier, Ernest Green, Minnijean Brown Trickey, Jefferson Thomas, and Elizabeth Eckford.

It was during his remarks at the service that President Clinton announced he had asked that Bates’ south-central Little Rock home be designated as a national historic landmark.

Rock the Oscars 2019: Nine from Little Rock

On April 5, 1965, the Academy Award for Best Documentary, Short Subject went to the film “Nine from Little Rock.”

Narrated by Jefferson Thomas, Charles Guggenheim’s documentary looks at the nine African-American students who enrolled in Little Rock Central High School in 1957. Thomas, one of the students reflects on the state of race relations in the seven years that had elapsed (up to 1964).  The film also focuses on Ernest Green, Elizabeth Eckford and Thelma Mothershed.

Guggenheim both directed and co-wrote the film. The latter credit was shared with Shelby Storck, who also produced the film.   The film had been commissioned by George Stevens, Jr., for the United State Information Agency.

The Oscar that night was Guggenheim’s first of four.  His others would be for: 1968’s “Robert Kennedy Remembered” (Live Action Short), 1989’s “The Johnstown Flood” (Documentary Short) and 1994’s “A Time for Justice” (Documentary Short).  His son Davis Guggenheim won the Oscar for Documentary, Feature for An Inconvenient Truth.

The film was digitally restored by the Motion Picture Preservation Lab for the 50th anniversary of its win for Best Short Documentary at the 1965 Academy Awards.  It is available for purchase on DVD and can also be viewed in its entirety on YouTube

Little Rock Look Back: Little Rock Nine enter Central High for First Full Day

After legal challenges, stymied attempts, and literally countless threats, it was on Wednesday, September 25, 1957, that the group of African American students known as the Little Rock Nine actually entered Little Rock Central High School for a full day.  They would return each day through the end of the school year.

Unlike September 23, when they went in a side door before being hustled a few hours later for their own protection, on September 25 they walked in the front door.  They did so escorted by members of the 101st Airborne who had been ordered to Little Rock by President Eisenhower.

Much has been written about the events of September 25, 1957.  Several of the participants that day have penned memoirs.

Whatever I would write today would pale in comparison to the accounts of those who lived it.

So I just end this with words of gratitude to:

  • Melba Pattillo Beals
  • Elizabeth Eckford
  • Ernest Green
  • Gloria Ray Karlmark
  • Carlotta Walls LaNier
  • Terrence Roberts
  • Jefferson Thomas
  • Minnijean Brown Trickey
  • Thelma Mothershed Wair

Thank you to these nine pioneers, who were simply teenagers trying to have equal education opportunities.  Thank you to their parents, their families, their pastors, their legal team, their support system.  Thank you to Daisy and L. C. Bates, Wiley Branton Sr. Chris Mercer, and Thurgood Marshall for the roles they played.

While Jefferson Thomas passed away in 2010, the other eight continue to tell their stories and speak truth to audiences ranging from one to thousands and ages from pre-school to seniors.

Rock the Oscars: Nine from Little Rock

On April 5, 1965, the Academy Award for Best Documentary, Short Subject went to the film “Nine from Little Rock.”

Narrated by Jefferson Thomas, Charles Guggenheim’s documentary looks at the nine African-American students who enrolled in Little Rock Central High School in 1957. Thomas, one of the students reflects on the state of race relations in the seven years that had elapsed (up to 1964).  The film also focuses on Ernest Green, Elizabeth Eckford and Thelma Mothershed.

Guggenheim both directed and co-wrote the film. The latter credit was shared with Shelby Storck, who also produced the film.   The film had been commissioned by George Stevens, Jr., for the United State Information Agency.

The Oscar that night was Guggenheim’s first of four.  His others would be for: 1968’s “Robert Kennedy Remembered” (Live Action Short), 1989’s “The Johnstown Flood” (Documentary Short) and 1994’s “A Time for Justice” (Documentary Short).  His son Davis Guggenheim won the Oscar for Documentary, Feature for An Inconvenient Truth.

The film was digitally restored by the Motion Picture Preservation Lab for the 50th anniversary of its win for Best Short Documentary at the 1965 Academy Awards.  It is available for purchase on DVD and can also be viewed in its entirety on YouTube

Little Rock Look Back: US Supreme Court announces Cooper v. Aaron decision

Thurgood Marshall, of the NAACP, sits on the steps of the Supreme Court Building after he filed an appeal in the integration case of Little Rock’s Central High School. The students are, from left: Melba Pattillo, Jefferson Thomas, Gloria Ray, escort Daisy Bates, Marshall, Carlotta Walls, Minnijean Brown, and Elizabeth Eckford. (AP Photo, file)

On September 29, 1958, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision in Cooper v. Aaron. That decision held that Little Rock public officials were required to implement a desegregation plan in compliance with the Brown v. Board decision.

The Court found that “the federal judiciary is supreme in the exposition of the law of the Constitution” and all state officials must adhere to the Court’s decisions and follow the rules laid down in those decisions in similar future cases.

The genesis for the Cooper v. Aaron court case was the Little Rock School Board seeking a delay in further implementation of the plan to integrate schools.

After the events of 1957-1958, the School Board was reluctant to have another year of integration, even if it were severely limited. The school board caved to this political pressure, filing a request for a two-and-a-half-year delay in implementing desegregation. The district court granted the request, but the court of appeals reversed. Chief Justice Earl Warren called a Special Term of the Supreme Court into session to consider the case. The stage was set for Cooper v. Aaron.

In their decision, the Warren Court made it clear that resistance to Brown would not be tolerated. The Court went on to state that “the federal judiciary is supreme in the exposition of the Constitution” and “the interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment enunciated by this Court in the Brown case is the supreme law of the land.”