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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First Hall High School graduation – May 28, 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 and the Vo Tech high schools 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: Final Saturday in May 1959 Recall Election Campaign

May 23, 1959, was a Saturday. It was also two days before the School Board recall election.  With it being a Saturday, it was the last full day for door knocking as supporters for all sides were busy trying to get out the vote.

Both sides were confident of victory.  Before a crowd of 1,000 in MacArthur Park, segregationists Rep. Dale Alford and Mississippi congressman John Bell Williams berated Harry Ashmore and the Arkansas Gazette.

STOP chair Dr. Drew Agar and campaign chair William Mitchell predicted it would be the largest turnout in Little Rock school election history.  They also stated that Gov. Faubus’ TV appearance criticizing STOP had actually pushed people over to their side.

Echoing Agar and Mitchell, the Pulaski County Election Commission predicted 30,000 of the district’s 42,000 registered voters would cast ballots.  The previous record of 27,000 had been cast in September 1958 when voters decided to keep the high schools closed.  By contrast, 14,300 voted in the December 1958 election which had selected the six school board members now on the ballot for recall.  On May 22, the final day of absentee ballot voting, 205 absentee votes had been cast bringing it to a total of 455 absentee ballots.

William S. Mitchell, who in addition to being a renowned attorney, apparently had a wicked sense of humor.  He used CROSS’s name against them in ads (placed throughout the newspaper) which urged voters to “Cross” out the names of the three candidates being backed by CROSS.

Remember the Recall – a look at 1959 LR Schools Election at Old State House Museum today

Courtesy of UA Little Rock Center for Arkansas History and Culture

After eight months of closed high schools in Little Rock, the firing of 44 well-respected Little Rock School District employees set off a firestorm which would culminate in a recall election.

Supporters of following federal law were pitted against ardent segregationists as all six members of the School Board (who had been elected only five months earlier) were subject to the state’s first ever recall election for school board members.

Today (May 9) at the Old State House Museum, the Brown Bag lecture series will focus on the Recall election and the events that led up to it.  The program starts at 12 noon.

In a program entitled, “Remember the Recall” the events of May 1959 will be discussed. The campaigns for and against these school board members exposed new generations of Little Rock residents to civic engagement. Some of Little Rock’s civic leaders today cite that time as a political awakening.