Tag Archives: Little Rock Central High School

New Off Broadway play LITTLE ROCK opens tonight in NYC

Tonight in New York City, the new play Little Rock, about the events in 1957, officially opens.

Written and directed by Rajendra Ramoon Maharaj, eleven years ago, he was in a residency at the Arkansas Repertory Theatre.  During that time, he created It Happened in Little Rock, which was performed at the Rep in September 2007.  It was their contribution the community events commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the integration of Little Rock Central High.

Though Maharaj’s current production is different from the 2007 Rep production, it was inspired by his time in Little Rock and the connections he made during his residency.

The cast includes Rebekah Brockman, Justin Cunningham, Charlie Hudson III, Ashley Robinson, Stephanie Umoh (who starred in the Arkansas Rep production of Pal Joey), Shanice Williams, Peter O’Connor, Damian Jermaine Thompson (who starred in the Arkansas Rep productions of The Whipping Man and the Scottish Play), Kea Trevett and Anita Welch.

The production officially opens on June 6 and is scheduled for a limited run through September 8.

This production illustrates why theatre is important and Arkansas Repertory Theatre specifically is important.  One, theatre is a chance to explore and explain moments from our past and present.  The Rep saw a role it could play in telling a variety of stories and perspectives while molding a narrative about events in 1957 and progress that had been made (or not) since then.

Additionally, it is important that the Arkansas Repertory Theatre provided an artistic home for a playwright and director to learn.  In addition to working on It Happened in Little Rock, over the years Maharaj directed A Raisin in the Sun, Dreamgirls, and Intimate Apparel for Arkansas Rep.  It was through his experiences in Little Rock in 2004 and 2006, that he was inspired to collaborate with Bob Hupp, Leslie Golden and the Rep staff on It Happened in Little Rock.  Developing a play is not easy, cheap, or quick.  It is vital to the future of theatre to have artistic homes which can support these initiatives.

As the Arkansas Rep is preparing for its “Next Act” it is important to remember the impact it has had artistically and as an agent for community conversation on not only Little Rock but the state of Arkansas.  Sometimes theatre sparks ideas that no other art-form can, or no amount of reading or listening to speeches can.

Repertorium Praeter Theatrum

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Anne Frank trees in Little Rock

On June 12, 1929, Anne Frank was born in Frankfurt, Germany.  Through her diary, she has inspired generations with her courage as her family was in hiding from the Nazis.  During the two years she and her family were in seclusion, she looked out and saw a white horse chestnut tree from her window.

In 2009, the Anne Frank Center USA announced an initiative to place saplings from the tree at various locations throughout the United States.  Little Rock became the only city to receive two saplings.  One to be placed at Central High School, the other to be placed at the Clinton Presidential Center.

The Clinton Foundation and the Sisterhood of Congregation B’nai Israel, in conjunction with the Anne Frank Center USA, joined together to create a powerful exhibit, The Anne Frank Tree, located on the grounds of the Clinton Presidential Park.  The permanent installation, which surrounds the Anne Frank Tree sapling, was dedicated on October 2, 2015.

Anne’s tree would outlive her by more than 50 years before being weakened by disease and succumbing to a windstorm in 2010. But today, thanks to dozens of saplings propagated in the months before its death, Anne’s tree lives on in cities and towns around the world.

The Anne Frank Tree installation at the Clinton Center consists of five framed, etched glass panels – arranged to evoke the feeling of being inside a room – surrounded by complementary natural landscaping. The two front panels feature quotes from Anne Frank and President Clinton. The three additional panels convey the complex history of human rights in Arkansas through descriptions of the Indian Removal Act of 1830, the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, and the Little Rock Central High School desegregation crisis of 1957. These panels feature quotes from Chief Heckaton, hereditary chief of the Quapaw during Arkansas’s Indian Removal; George Takei, Japanese-American actor who was interned at the Rohwer Relocation Center in Desha County, Arkansas, in 1942; and Melba Pattillo Beals, of the Little Rock Nine.

In collaboration with the Clinton Foundation, Little Rock landscape architect Cinde Bauer and Ralph Appelbaum Associates, exhibit designer for both the Center and The National Holocaust Museum, assisted in the design of the exhibit. The installation has been made possible thanks to the support of the Ben J. Altheimer Charitable Foundation, TRG Foundation, and other generous partners.

Little Rock Look Back: Brown v. Board II Decision from the US Supreme Court

On May 31, 1955, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its ruling in Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka II.  

One year after the landmark Brown v. Board decision which declared state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students to be unconstitutional, the Supreme Court took up the case again.  This time the focus was on the implementation of desegregation

The original Brown v. Board grew out of a class action suit filed in Topeka, Kansas, by thirteen African American parents on behalf of their children.  The District Court had ruled in favor of the Board of Education, citing Plessy v. Ferguson.  When it was appealed to the Supreme Court, Brown v. Board was combined with four other cases from other jurisdictions.

After handing down the 1954 decision, the Supreme Court planned to hear arguments during the following court session regarding the implementation.  Because the Brown v. Board case was actually a compilation of several cases from different parts of the US, the Supreme Court was faced with crafting a ruling which would apply to a variety of situations.

In the arguments before the court in April 1955, the NAACP argued for immediate desegregation while the states argued for delays.

The unanimous decision, authored by Chief Justice Earl Warren, employed the now-famous (or infamous?) phrase that the states should desegregate “with all deliberate speed.”

In making the ruling, the US Supreme Court shifted the decision-making to local school districts and lower-level federal courts. The rationale was that those entities closest to the unique situation of each locality would be best equipped to handle the distinct needs of those schools and communities.

The Supreme Court did make it clear that all school systems must immediately starting moving toward racial desegregation.   But again failed to provide any guideposts as to what that meant.

In anticipation of the Supreme Court’s Brown II ruling, earlier in May the Little Rock School Board had adopted a draft of what became known as the “Blossom Plan” (named for the superintendent, Virgil Blossom).  The thought process seems to have been that if the LRSD had a plan in place prior to a Supreme Court decision, it might buy it more time had the court ruled that things had to happen immediately.

The Blossom Plan called for phased integration to start at the senior high level.  It anticipated the new Hall High School as having an attendance zone in addition to zones for Central and Mann high schools. But the way the zones were created, the only school which would be integrated at first would be Central High.  The junior highs and elementary schools would be integrated later.

With no immediate remedy from the US Supreme Court, the NAACP – both nationally and locally – had little recourse other than expressing their unhappiness continuing to verbally protest the lack of immediate desegregation. (This is an oversimplification of the NAACP efforts, but points out that there options were very limited.)

New play LITTLE ROCK, inspired by 1957 events, with roots at Arkansas Rep begins performances tonight in NYC

Tonight in New York City, a new play starts previews.  It is entitled Little Rock and is written and directed by Rajendra Ramoon Maharaj.

Eleven years ago, Maharaj was in a residency at the Arkansas Repertory Theatre creating It Happened in Little Rock, which was performed at the Rep in September 2007.  It was their contribution the community events commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the integration of Little Rock Central High.

Though Maharaj’s current production is different from the 2007 Rep production, it was inspired by his time in Little Rock and the connections he made during his residency.

Here is the official description of Little Rock:

LITTLE ROCK tells the riveting true story of the Little Rock Nine, the first black students to attend their city’s formerly segregated central high school. What began as their quest for a better education soon became a national crisis, igniting the passions of a divided country and sparking a historic fight for justice in the Jim Crow South.

On the cusp of the Civil Rights Movement, a changing world watched as these nine children from Arkansas battled for their rights with only a book and pencil.

The cast includes Rebekah Brockman, Justin Cunningham, Charlie Hudson III, Ashley Robinson, Stephanie Umoh (who starred in the Arkansas Rep production of Pal Joey), Shanice Williams, Peter O’Connor, Damian Jermaine Thompson (who starred in the Arkansas Rep productions of The Whipping Man and the Scottish Play), Kea Trevett and Anita Welch.

The production officially opens on June 6 and is scheduled for a limited run through September 8.

This production illustrates why theatre is important and Arkansas Repertory Theatre specifically is important.  One, theatre is a chance to explore and explain moments from our past and present.  The Rep saw a role it could play in telling a variety of stories and perspectives while molding a narrative about events in 1957 and progress that had been made (or not) since then.

Additionally, it is important that the Arkansas Repertory Theatre provided an artistic home for a playwright and director to learn.  In addition to working on It Happened in Little Rock, over the years Maharaj directed A Raisin in the Sun, Dreamgirls, and Intimate Apparel for Arkansas Rep.  It was through his experiences in Little Rock in 2004 and 2006, that he was inspired to collaborate with Bob Hupp, Leslie Golden and the Rep staff on It Happened in Little Rock.  Developing a play is not easy, cheap, or quick.  It is vital to the future of theatre to have artistic homes which can support these initiatives.

As the Arkansas Rep is preparing for its “Next Act” it is important to remember the impact it has had artistically and as an agent for community conversation on not only Little Rock but the state of Arkansas.  Sometimes theatre sparks ideas that no other art-form can, or no amount of reading or listening to speeches can.

Repertorium Praeter Theatrum

UPDATE – on the afternoon of May 30, the producer announced that due to some technical difficulties, the production was being delayed a few days.

Little Rock Look Back: First Hall High Graduation in 1958

Another historic high school graduation took place on May 28, 1958.  It was the first graduation ceremony for Little Rock Hall High School.

The school opened in September 1957 as Little Rock’s newest high school, located in “west” Little Rock.  (It is sometimes listed as the second Little Rock high school, ignoring the fact that Horace Mann high school existed.)

The first graduating class was smaller than future classes would be.  Because they had attended Central High School for their sophomore and junior years, many seniors who were zoned for Hall High chose to attend Central for their senior year.

Instead of processing in to Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance,” the Hall High seniors entered to Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Procession of the Nobles.”  The music for ceremony also included “The Star Spangled Banner,” Scarmolin’s “My Creed” and Handel’s “Sarabande and Bouree.”

Principal Terrell E. Powell (who would be tapped as superintendent of the district in a few months) presided over the ceremonies.  Superintendent Virgil Blossom (whose daughter had graduated from Central High the day before) spoke briefly to introduce the School Board members.  One of them, R. A. Lile, presented the students with their diplomas.

There were 109 seniors listed in the graduation program, seven were honor graduates.  The senior class officers were: Redding Stevenson, president; Amanda Jeanne “Toppy” Cameron, vice president; and Karl E. Stahlkopf, secretary. Porter Briggs was the first student body president. Linda Overstreet was student body vice president and Linda Neathery was 12th grade representative on the student council.

The Senior speakers were:  Anita Kluglose (“Toward a Pathless Wood”), Karl Stahlkopf (“Toward the Mysterious Stars”), Linda Neathery (“Toward Majestic Mountains”) and Thomas York (“Toward Unlimited Horizons”).  Other students participating were Redding Stevenson presenting the senior gift, Mary Ellen Lenggenhager giving the invocation, and Michael Ebert giving the benediction.

Little Rock Look Back: Ernest Green graduation from LR Central High

Last week, the Class of 2018 graduated from Little Rock Central High School.  Perhaps the most famous graduation ceremony in the long-storied history of Little Rock Central High took place on May 27, 1958.  It was on that date that Ernest Green became the first African American to graduate from the formerly all-white school.

Among those in the audience to witness this historic event was an up and coming minister named Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  A friend of L. C. and Daisy Bates, he attended the 1958 Central High School graduation to witness Green receiving a diploma. Each senior only received eight tickets to the ceremony at Quigley Stadium.   Dr. King was in the state to address the Arkansas AM&N (now UAPB) graduation.  Because he was going to be nearby, Dr. King wanted to witness the history.  Green did not know that Dr. King was in the stands until after the conclusion of the ceremony.  Later that evening, Dr. King gave Green a graduation present of $15.

Ernest Green, Dr. King and Daisy Bates share a relaxed moment — which was probably rare for the three in 1958

Because of fears about the event becoming a media circus, the Little Rock School District limited the press on the field to one Democrat and one Gazette photographer. Other press were limited to the press box normally filled with sportswriters covering the gridiron exploits of the champion Tigers.  There were photos taken of Green prior to the ceremony as well as during the ceremony.

During the graduation rehearsal, there had been concerns that some students or other people might try to disrupt the practice.  But it went off without a hitch.  Likewise, the ceremony itself went smoothly.  Local press reported that some members of the class briefly chatted with Green during the ceremony.  That the event took place without incident was a relief on many levels to City leaders.  Also in the class of 1958 were a son of Little Rock Mayor Woodrow Mann and a daughter of LRSD Superintendent Virgil Blossom.

Little Rock Look Back: 1959 Recall Election Day

The triumphant trio who were retained by Little Rock voters.

May 25, 1959, was not only the Recall Election Day, it was the last day of school for the Little Rock School District’s elementary and junior high students.  The results of that day’s vote would determine whether the ninth grade students would be in class come fall, or joining their older friends and neighbors in sitting out a school year.

While expectations that a new record of turnout would be set were off, over 25,000 of the 42,000 registered voters DID cast ballots in the May 25, 1959, Recall Election.

As the precinct results started coming in, some unexpected trends developed.  Some of the boxes in the more affluent, western neighborhoods which had been expected to be strongly in favor of keeping Everett Tucker, Russell Matson and Ted Lamb were not providing the anticipated overwhelming numbers.  Likewise, some of the more working class neighborhoods which had been projected to be strongly in favor of keeping Ed McKinley, Ben Rowland and Bob Laster were more receptive to keeping Tucker, Matson and Lamb.

As the night rolled onward, only Everett Tucker looked like a sure thing to be retained on the School Board.  At one point in the evening it appeared that the other five members would be recalled.  By the time they were down to four boxes still uncounted, the three CROSS-backed candidates were guaranteed to be recalled, but the status of Lamb and Matson was still undetermined.  Finally, with only two boxes remaining, there was a sufficient cushion to guarantee Matson and Lamb would continue as board members.

Two boxes from the Woodruff school were uncounted at the end of Monday. They had 611 votes between the two of them, which was not enough to change any outcomes.  They were being kept under lock and key to ensure there was no tampering with them.

Once it became apparent that Tucker, Lamb and Matson were retained, the STOP watch party erupted.  Six young men hoisted the triumphant three on their shoulders and paraded them through the crowd.  Dr. Drew Agar enthusiastically announced to the crowd, “Mission completely accomplished.”

At around 11:00 p.m. William S. Mitchell addressed the crowd.  “This is a great awakening of our home town…I have never seen such a wonderful demonstration of community spirit.”  He later went on to thank the thousands of people who volunteered in the effort.

At the CROSS headquarters, Ed McKinley and Rev. M. L. Moser were sequestered in a room poring over results.  When it appeared that 5 of the 6 might be recalled, McKinley issued what turned out to be a premature statement.

Back at the STOP party, the celebration continued.  While people knew that much work was still ahead, the men and women in attendance were enjoying a rare moment of joy after nearly two years of strife.