Little Rock Look Back: Suit filed calling for integration of LR public facilities

Attorney Wiley Branton, who filed the law suit.

On March 8, 1962, 22 members of the Council on Community Affairs filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court against the city Board of Directors for the desegregation of “public parks, recreational facilities, Joseph T. Robinson Auditorium and all other public facilities.”  The members included journalists, dentists, attorneys, school teachers and other members of Little Rock’s African American professional class.  Attorney Wiley Branton, Sr., filed the suit.

Though the City’s Auditorium Commission was mentioned in the suit, they were not served with papers. So when media contacted them, they made no comment.

Historian John A. Kirk has written, “Members of the City Board were willing to admit that the desegregation of public facilities was ‘a foregone conclusion’ if the case went to court, but they remained committed to fighting the lawsuit if only to buy time to devise other methods to avoid desegregation.”

The decision was rendered in February 1963 that the City must integrate its public facilities.

In 1951, the City’s library facilities had been integrated followed by the bus system in 1956. Both of these had been accomplished without incident.  Of course the same was not said for the integration of the public schools in 1957.

In 1961, there had been attempts to have Robinson Auditorium integrated after Duke Ellington threatened to cancel a concert rather than play to a segregated crowd.  The Auditorium Commission refused to change its policy, and Ellington did not play the concert.

Based on efforts of the Council of Community Affairs working with white business leaders, downtown lunch counters and businesses were integrated starting in January 1963.  The efforts of the Council of Community Affairs and the white business leaders are commemorated in the Arkansas Civil Rights Heritage Trail with medallions in front of the Little Rock Regional Chamber building.

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Little Rock Look Back: Suit filed to integrate Little Rock facilities

Attorney Wiley Branton, who filed the law suit.

On March 8, 1962, 22 members of the Council on Community Affairs filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court against the city Board of Directors for the desegregation of “public parks, recreational facilities, Joseph T. Robinson Auditorium and all other public facilities.”  The members included journalists, dentists, attorneys, school teachers and other members of Little Rock’s African American professional class.  Attorney Wiley Branton, Sr., filed the suit.

Though the City’s Auditorium Commission was mentioned in the suit, they were not served with papers. So when media contacted them, they made no comment.

Historian John A. Kirk has written, “Members of the City Board were willing to admit that the desegregation of public facilities was ‘a foregone conclusion’ if the case went to court, but they remained committed to fighting the lawsuit if only to buy time to devise other methods to avoid desegregation.”

The decision was rendered in February 1963 that the City must integrate its public facilities.

In 1951, the City’s library facilities had been integrated followed by the bus system in 1956. Both of these had been accomplished without incident.  Of course the same was not said for the integration of the public schools in 1957.

In 1961, there had been attempts to have Robinson Auditorium integrated after Duke Ellington threatened to cancel a concert rather than play to a segregated crowd.  The Auditorium Commission refused to change its policy, and Ellington did not play the concert.

Based on efforts of the Council of Community Affairs working with white business leaders, downtown lunch counters and businesses were integrated starting in January 1963.  The efforts of the Council of Community Affairs and the white business leaders are commemorated in the Arkansas Civil Rights Heritage Trail with medallions in front of the Little Rock Regional Chamber building.

National Park Service Director, Local Leaders to Speak at Black History Month Town Hall Meeting

Feb 2 NPS eventLittle Rock Central High School National Historic Site in partnership with Little Rock Convention & Visitors Bureau, Mosaic Templars Cultural Center and the City of Little Rock, invite the public to join them for a Black History Month Town Hall Meeting entitled Arkansas’s Past-N-Motion to be held at Mosaic Templars Cultural Center at 5:30pm on February 2, 2016.

National Park Service Agency Director Jonathan Jarvis will serve as the guest speaker, and will discuss the National Parks Centennial Celebration, his tour to several of our nation’s civil rights-related historic sites and parks, and the importance of the National Park Service’s role in preserving and sharing our country’s history for future generations.  After his remarks, a panel discussion with local individuals will discuss several local institutions, and their roles and recent initiatives in preserving and sharing our city’s African American history, and its unique place in our nation’s civil rights movement.  This discussion will feature State Senator Joyce Elliott as moderator, and feature local panelists: Constance Sarto, Member, Mayor’s Tourism Commission; Dr. John Kirk – Director, UALR Institute on Race and Ethnicity; and Charles Stewart, Chairman, Arkansas Black Hall of Fame.

This Town Hall Meeting will highlight the resources of Civil Right institutions both from a national and local perspective, and the role of the National Park Service as the nation’s storyteller as it prepares to embark upon its Centennial 100th Birthday celebration on August 25, 2016.

During Director Jarvis’ time in Arkansas, he plans to visit Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site, engage Youth Leadership Academy members from Central High School as well as elementary students around the new White House youth initiative to get all 4th graders and their families to experience the places that are home to our country’s natural treasures, rich history, and vibrant culture FREE OF CHARGE! His visit to Arkansas will mark the start of Director Jarvis’ month-long endeavor to promote Civil Rights Sites during Black History Month.

They have also created the hashtag #ARPastNMotion to encourage local community groups to share information regarding any upcoming events relating to Black History Month.

For more information, please contact Enimini Ekong at (501) 396-3006 or Enimini_Ekong@nps.gov, or visit www.LittleRock.com/NPS.

Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site is located at 2120 Daisy L. Gatson Bates Drive, diagonally across the street from Central High School. The visitor center is open from 9:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. Monday through Sunday.  Admission is free. For more information call (501) 374-1957 or email chsc_visitor_center@nps.gov.

Fourteen new names added to 2015 Arkansas Civil Rights Heritage Trail

2015 ACRHTLast month, the University of Arkansas at Little Rock Institute on Race and Ethnicity unveiled the 2015 Arkansas Civil Rights Heritage Trail markers. This year’s theme is “Politics and Law” to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The fourteen new markers are installed at Scott and Markham Streets near the Statehouse Convention Center.

Established in the summer of 2011, the Arkansas Civil Rights Heritage Trail honors those who made significant contributions to civil rights in Arkansas. The trail raises public awareness of the long and rich legacy of Arkansas’s civil rights history.

A 12-inch bronze marker is placed in the sidewalk for each honoree. The trail begins in front of the Old State House Convention Center on Markham Street and will eventually extend to the William J. Clinton Presidential Center and Park and other points throughout the downtown corridor.

This year’s 14 honorees are:

  • Annie Mae Bankhead, who was a community activist in Pulaski County’s black College Station neighborhood
  • Wiley Branton, Sr., who was head of the Southern Regional Council’s Voter Education Project in the 1960s
  • Charles Bussey, who was leader of the Veterans Good Government Association and became Little Rock’s first black mayor in 1980
  • William Harold Flowers, who laid the foundations for the Arkansas State Conference of National Association for the Advancement of Colored People branches
  • Jeffrey Hawkins, who was for decades the unofficial mayor of Little Rock’s black East End neighborhood
  • Irma Hunter Brown, who was the first black woman elected to the Arkansas General Assembly
  • Scipio Africanus Jones, a leading black Republican who defended 12 prisoners for their role in the 1919 Elaine Race Riot
  • Mahlon Martin, who was the first black city manager of Little Rock
  • I.S. McClinton, who was head of the Arkansas Democratic Voters Association, a forerunner of today’s Black Democratic Caucus
  • Richard L. Mays and Henry Wilkins III, who were among the first blacks elected to the Arkansas General Assembly in the 20th century in 1972
  • Olly Neal, who was the first black district prosecuting attorney in Arkansas and later served on the Arkansas Court of Appeals
  • Lottie Shackelford, who was the first black woman mayor of Little Rock
  • John Walker, who for more than five decades has been involved in civil rights activism in the courts, most notably in school desegregation cases

Dr. John Kirk is the director of the Institute.  At the November ceremony, he spoke along with UALR Chancellor Joel Anderson. At a reception following the ceremony, Senator Joyce Elliott gave a toast in honor of the 14 and several of the honorees or their descendants spoke.

Explore Little Rock’s civil rights history with new app

Little Rock-area residents and visitors have a new way to explore the city’s rich civil rights history.

The University of Arkansas at Little Rock Institute on Race and Ethnicity and Little Rock city officials  have unveiled the Arkansas Civil Rights History Tour app.

The free Apple and Android app guides users on an excursion through some of the city’s most influential historical sites, going back to the 1840s. Each of the 35 stops on the GPS-guided tour includes compelling narratives, historic photos, audio, and links to related content.

Tour stops range from the L.C. and Daisy Bates House to the Trail of Tears. The tour includes a total of three National Historic Landmarks, three National Register Historic Districts, and numerous buildings on the National Register of Historic Places.

Narrated in both English and Spanish, the app also offers information about Jewish history in Little Rock, Hispanic migrations to Arkansas, and Native American tribes.

Organizers recommend app users begin their route at Broadway and West Ninth Street in downtown Little Rock, but the app can help people customize their own path.

A collaboration of the Institute on Race and Ethnicity, the City of Little Rock, the Mayor’s Tourism Commission, and KUAR, UALR’s public radio station, led to the creation of the Arkansas Humanities Council-funded app.

“The institute’s mission is to remember and understand the past, to inform and engage the present, and to shape and define the future in the area of race and ethnicity,” said Dr. John Kirk, director of the Institute on Race and Ethnicity.

“The tour app helps us to do all those things: It powerfully sheds light on the past, it allows people to engage with the past in the present moment, and it helps us to consider how those legacies and lessons can shape and define the future of the city and state.”

The app can be found in the Apple App Store and on Google Play by searching for “Arkansas history.”

Historian Dr. John Kirk is new director of UALR Institute on Race and Ethnicity

JohnKirk_history1aDr. John A. Kirk has been named the new director of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s Institute on Race and Ethnicity.  A native of Great Britain, he has garnered international acclaim for his research and writings on race and the civil rights movement — with a particular focus on Little Rock.

Kirk has been a member of the Chancellor’s Committee on Race and Ethnicity since he arrived at the university more than five years ago and has been involved with the institute since its inception about four years ago.

“I have a deep personal and professional commitment to the pursuit of racial and ethnic justice, and I think that should be the primary reason anyone takes on the job of director of UALR’s Institute on Race and Ethnicity — it is at the very heart of what the institute does,” Kirk said.

Kirk plans to connect with and engage as many students, faculty, and community members as possible in achieving the goals of the institute, which include:

  • Raising awareness of race and ethnicity issues
  • Providing research-based information and policy recommendations
  • Building bridges and seeking reconciliation through interracial and interethnic dialogue
  • Engaging students
  • Serving as a clearinghouse for on- and off-campus initiatives related to race and ethnicity
  • Holding UALR accountable for becoming a more diverse and multi-ethnic community.

For the past 25 years, Kirk has researched and written about issues of race and ethnicity in the United States, especially in Little Rock and Arkansas. He’s the author of numerous books, including “Race and Ethnicity in Arkansas: New Perspectives,” “Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement,” and “Beyond Little Rock: The Origins and Legacies of the Central High Crisis.” He also recently partnered with the BBC on its Martin Luther King Jr. web display that serves as an information resource for an international audience.

In announcing Kirk’s appointment, UALR Chancellor Joel E. Anderson noted the professor’s knowledge and passion for civil rights-related topics were ideal fits for the institute’s leadership role.

“It is a rare opportunity to work with someone who grew up in Great Britain but whose knowledge of Arkansas civil rights history is probably greater than anyone else’s in Arkansas or the United States,” Anderson said.  “Dr. John Kirk is a well-known resource in our community for his expertise on the many ways race has shaped our city and state. I am confident that under his leadership the UALR Institute on Race and Ethnicity will continue to grow in influence and will help shape a better future for the people of Arkansas.”

Kirk replaces Dr. Michael R. Twyman, who resigned in July to take a position at the Indiana Black Expo organization.

With Kirk’s new director responsibilities, he will remain the Donaghey Distinguished Professor of History  but no longer will serve as the UALR History Department chair.

“I am excited by the challenges and opportunities that the director’s job brings with it,” Kirk said. “I particularly look forward to getting to know more about and working with students, faculty, and community members who are learning, teaching, researching and serving on issues of race and ethnicity.”

Integration of Little Rock’s Junior Highs topic of panel today

Seven students who desegregated Little Rock’s junior high schools will discuss their experiences for the first time from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday, Feb. 21, at the Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site.

Laverne before and after

Dr. LaVerne Bell-Tolliver, first African American to attend Forest Heights Middle School in 1961 and currently an assistant professor in the UALR School of Social Work.

During the event, titled ”Phase II: The Desegregation of Little Rock Public Schools,” the former students will discuss their roles in the desegregation process in the early 1960s.  Between 1961 and 1962, 25 black students enrolled at junior high schools throughout Little Rock that had previously been closed to them.

Dr. LaVerne Bell-Tolliver, Judge Kathleen Bell, Henry Rodgers, Wilbunette Walls Randolph, Glenda Wilson, Dr. Kenneth Jones, and Judge Joyce Williams Warren will participate in the panel discussion to share their stories.  For many of them, this will be the first time they will discuss their experiences publicly.

The panel will be moderated by Rhonda Stewart, local history and genealogy expert at The Butler Center for Arkansas Studies.  Dr. John A. Kirk, George W. Donaghey Distinguished Professor of History and chair of the UALR Department of History, will provide an overview of the history of school desegregation in the area including the landmark Brown vs Board of Education decision and 1958, a so-called “lost year” when all schools in the district were closed in order to block integration.

In addition to the presentations and discussions, copies of historic documents and artifacts from the era will be on display for public viewing.

The program in sponsored in part by the Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site Visitors’ Center, the Central Arkansas Chapter of the National Association of Black Social Workers, and a grant from the Arkansas Humanities Council’s African American Heritage Fund.