Tag Archives: Little Rock School Board

Little Rock Look Back: CROSS formed to Stop STOP

On May 16, 1959, a new organization emerged in an effort to keep Little Rock schools segregated.

The Committee to Retain Our Segregated Schools (CROSS) was launched by Rev. M. L. Moser, Jr., the pastor of Central Baptist Church.  The three leading segregationist organizations in Little Rock disavowed any connection to it.  Representatives from the Capitol Citizens Council, Central High Mother’s League and States Rights Council noted that he was not affiliated with them.

Approximately 300 people attended the CROSS kick off event at the Hotel Marion.   Joining Rev. Moser as a speaker at the rally was LRSD School Board President Ed McKinley.  It was announced that the CROSS office would be at 108 Scott Street.  Robert D. Lee was the campaign treasurer.

With STOP advocating for the removal of McKinley, Ben Rowland and Robert Laster from the school board, CROSS was now out to recall Everett Tucker, Ted Lamb and Russell Matson.

With the election on May 25, the final nine days were going to be intense.

 

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Little Rock Look Back: Date set for 1959 Recall Election

On May 15, 1959, the Pulaski County Election Commission met to discuss the competing efforts to recall members of the Little Rock School Board.

The day prior, the Pulaski County Clerk had certified that petitions had enough valid signatures to have an election about recalling School Board members Ed McKinley, Robert Laster and Ben Rowland. There were also enough valid signatures to put before voters the recall of Ted Lamb, Everett Tucker and Russell Matson.

Because all of the school board members were to be on the ballot, the Election body decided to list them each alphabetically.  For each person there would be the question as to whether he should be recalled and voters would indicate “yes” or “no.”

The date of May 25, 1959, was set for the election.

It would be open to anyone with a valid 1958 poll tax receipt.  Voters must also live within the Little Rock School District boundaries (which were not coterminous with the city limits). They must have been residents of Arkansas for a year by election day, residents of Pulaski County for six months, and resided within their precinct for 30 days.

Meanwhile supporters of both trios were hard at work.  STOP had been in existence for a week to promote the efforts to recall the segregationist faction of the school board.  While the Central High Mothers League and Capitol Citizens Council had been working to recall the other three members of the school board, rumors were swirling about the emergence of a new organization which sought to fight for segregation.

Little Rock Look Back: STOP announced to end Teacher Purge

Following the success of meetings at Forest Park Elementary and the Little Rock Chamber of Commerce, as well as other school, PTA, and civic meetings, the effort was underway to recall the three segregationist members of the Little Rock School Board.

On May 7, 1959, at Brier’s Restaurant, a group of young civic leaders gathered as they often did. This time, their conversation focused on how to capitalize on the momentum mounting in the desire to recall the three segregationist School Board members.  Attorneys Edward Lester, Robert Shults, and Maurice Mitchell were present as well as Gene Fretz, a Gazette editor.  It was he who came up with the acronym STOP – Stop This Outrageous Purge.

That afternoon, the group reconvened at the Grady Manning Hotel.  This time joined by esteemed attorney Will Mitchell.  Among the other men who were instrumental in getting STOP started were attorney Henry Woods, attorney W. P. Hamilton Jr., and banker B. Finley Vinson.  As chair of the Chamber of Commerce, Grainger Williams had been a vocal supporter of the efforts to reopen the school.  His leadership was, no doubt, instrumental in the Chamber’s quick and vocal support for the fired LRSD personnel.

Dr. Drew Agar was chosen to be the chair of STOP.  The father of three children at Forest Park Elementary School, he was vice president of the Forest Park PTA.  It was he who had presided over the successful Forest Park PTA meeting which saw several hundred parents oppose the firing and endorse the recall of the three segregationist members. (Dr. Agar had to use some fancy footing to get the items added to the agenda at the last minute, but with creative parliamentary maneuvering, he succeeded.)

On May 8, 1959, STOP was publicly announced.  The event took place at Union National Bank.  Approximately 179 men were in attendance.  Those present were asked to contribute or solicit $100.  (In time, approximately $36,000 would be raised.)

In addition to Dr. Agar serving as chair, Maurice Mitchell served as finance chair, Will Mitchell and Henry Woods were political strategists behind the campaign.  Many other men stepped up.  Dr. Agar announced at the May 8 meeting that a STOP office would open in room 1010 of the Pyramid Life building on May 9.  It was to be open between 9am and 5pm to accept donations and to to collect recall petitions.

At the meeting standing ovations were given to R. A. Lile, a former member of the Little Rock School Board, and Everett Tucker, Ted Lamb and Russell Matson, current members.  (Remember, this was back in the day when standing ovations were few and far between.)

Because most of the STOP members were younger, and second-tier business executives, the leadership of Will Mitchell and the chamber’s leadership by Grainger Williams was crucial in giving not only sage advice, but adding gravitas.

In the coming weeks, STOP would work closely with the Women’s Emergency Committee. The WEC had studied voter registration lists. They would put this skill to use as potential voters were identified as “Saints,” “Sinners,” or “Savables.”  The two groups, working hand in hand behind the scenes, had their work cut out for them.

When the issue about reopening the schools had been put to the voters the previous autumn, Little Rock voters had overwhelmingly approved keeping the schools closed.  There were many factors which had led to it – confusing ballot title, short campaign time, belief that the schools would reopen soon, etc.  But even though there were some key factors in favor of STOP and the WEC this time, nothing could be taken for granted.

Little Rock Look Back: 1959 School district patrons show support of fired teachers

Arkansas Gazette photo of some of the patrons leaving Bale Elementary dedication

Following the May 5, 1959, firing of 44 administrators, teachers and staff, sections of the Little Rock community continued to coalesce in opposition to the actions taken by three members of the Little Rock School Board.

Later the evening of May 5, at a ceremony to dedicate Williams Elementary, Everett Tucker spoke against the teacher purge. His remarks were greeted enthusiastically by the patrons of the school.

On May 6, 1959, approximately 400 district patrons filled the auditorium at Forest Heights Junior High for a meeting. They expressed their opposition to the firing of the district employees. While the sight of the hands raised in support of the fired employees was an impressive visual, there was more community response to come.

May 7, 1959, had been set as the date for the dedication of the new Hardin Bale Elementary School.  School Board President Ed McKinley, who had been one of the three who fired the 44 employees, was scheduled to give remarks at the ceremony.  As he was starting the remarks, some patrons stood and challenged him.  Then approximately 75 of them got up and walked out.   McKinley then proceeded to use his remarks to defend his actions and to attack opponents.

Both Williams Elementary and Forest Heights Junior High served the more moderate-leaning Pulaski Heights neighborhood. That they would be in support of the fired employees was less of a surprise.  It was a bit more unexpected that Bale Elementary patrons reacted in the way they did.  That neighborhood was more working class and zoned for Central High, two elements that segregationist forces had been counting on for allies.

Mr. McKinley’s remarks were so strident that fellow School Board member Judge Robert Laster called a press conference distancing himself from Mr. McKinley.  He used that opportunity to also criticize Mr. Tucker, Ted Lamb, and Russell Matson for what he termed the politicization of the Williams Elementary event.  After Judge Laster’s comments, the remaining member, Ben Rowland, expressed support for Mr. McKinley. He further stated that he, Mr. McKinley and Judge Laster had previously discussed what Mr. McKinley would mention in his Bale Elementary remarks.

With a school board in turmoil, teachers uncertain as to the legality of their contracts or non-renewal of them, and civic organizations largely calling for the reversal of the firings, the Little Rock education scene was in turmoil.  There was talk swirling through Little Rock about the need to recall school board members.  But who would take the lead on this?

Little Rock Look Back: 44 Teachers fired by divided LRSD School Board in 1959

Arkansas Gazette coverage of the teacher purge

On Tuesday, May 5, 1959, the deeply divided Little Rock School Board met to consider contracts for the coming year.  The topic of contract renewal had been on the April agenda, but with two of the six members out of town, it had been delayed.

The 1958-1959 school year had been anything but routine in Little Rock.  To keep the high schools segregated, the city’s four high schools had been closed – first by action of Governor Orval Faubus and then by Little Rock voters.  Frustrated by actions taken at the State level, the School Board had resigned en masse by November 1958, except for the one member who had won a surprise write-in election to unseat Congressman Brooks Hays.  A new school board was elected in December and was equally divided between segregationists and those who felt the law and federal court rulings should be followed.

The May 5, 1959, School Board meeting began at 9am with a room packed full of spectators and was carried live on the radio.  There had been rumblings that the pro-segregation school board members were going to try to fire any teachers they viewed as in favor of desegregation.  Every vote in the morning session ended with a 3/3 vote as Everett Tucker, Russell Matson and Ted Lamb voted one way and the other three: Ed McKinley, Robert Laster and Ben Rowland, voted the other.

After lunch, Tucker, Matson and Lamb decided to leave the meeting. They saw no way to break the stalemate that was paralyzing the discussions. Upon advice of attorneys, they walked out. With only three members remaining, they three thought it end the meeting for lack of quorum.

School Board President Ed McKinley declared the remaining members a quorum. The trio alternated between open and closed sessions. At the end of the day, they had fired forty-four LRSD employees who they viewed as integrationists.  This included 39 whites and five African Americans.  Twenty-seven worked at Central High, while the other seventeen were scattered across other Little Rock schools.  Seven principals, thirty-four teachers, and three secretaries made up the group.  The meeting had lasted the entire day.  The afternoon Arkansas Democrat (with a mid-day deadline) carried a story pondering whether teachers would be fired.

At the same meeting, Superintendent Terrell Powell was fired.  He had taken the reins of the district in December 1958 after having been Hall High’s first principal.  Mr. Powell was replaced by Tom Alford, a former Jacksonville superintendent who was the father of congressman (and former LRSD school board member) Dale Alford.

During a portion of the school board meeting (which was at the corner of Eighth Street and Louisiana Street), phone calls were being made from the LRSD headquarters to a house a few blocks away.  That house was the home of Adolphine Fletcher Terry.  She was hosting an executive board meeting of the Women’s Emergency Committee that day.

Not ones to shy away on anything, the WEC executive board voted to condemn the firings and support the teachers.  Fairly quickly, the Parent Teachers Association of Little Rock, the Arkansas Education Association, League of Women Voters, and Little Rock Ministerial Alliance joined in the call condemning the action.  Leadership at the Little Rock Chamber of Commerce also joined in decrying the purge.

And the fallout was just beginning……

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.”

Black History Month – Wiley Branton and Robinson Auditorium

brantonMost of the people who are being featured this month have played at Robinson Center.  But today’s entry, Wiley A. Branton, Sr. worked to integrate Robinson Center.

In 1962, he filed a suit on behalf of several African American residents of Little Rock to integrate the City’s public facilities including Robinson Auditorium.  (The City Board and the Auditorium Commission were named in the lawsuit.)  In 1963, the decision came down and the facilities had to integrate.

This lawsuit was just one of many in which Branton paved the way for equal opportunities for all.  He helped desegregate the University of Arkansas School of Law and later filed suit against the Little Rock School Board in a case that went to the U.S. Supreme Court as Cooper v. Aaron.

A native of Pine Bluff, he graduated from what is now UAPB. After first being refused admission, he later became the fifth African American to attend the UA Law School and the third to graduate.  From 1953 to 1962, he had a law practice in Pine Bluff.  Between 1962 and 1965, Branton worked with representatives of the major African-American civil rights organizations to register almost 700,000 new black voters in eleven Southern states. Following that, he became executive director of the President’s Council on Equal Opportunity and help coordinate implementation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He spent 1965 to 1967 at the Justice Department, before becoming executive director of the United Planning Organization (UPO).  After working with a couple of other organizations, he returned to private practice in 1971.  In December 1977 it was announced that Branton would be the new dean of Howard University School of Law. After five years, he joined the law firm of Sidley and Austin in its Washington DC office.

Branton died of a heart attack in December 1988.  Eleven hundred mourners gathered at a memorial service at the Washington National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. Among those present was Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. The eulogy was delivered by Vernon E. Jordan, Jr..  Then-Gov. Bill Clinton spoke at the Pine Bluff memorial service for Branton.