On Saturday, September 27, 1958, voters in Little Rock approved the continuation of the closure of the city’s high schools.
Using legislation passed by the General Assembly in a hastily called special session in summer of 1958, Governor Orval Faubus had ordered the closure of Little Rock’s four public high schools in order to keep them from being desegregated.
But that state law only allowed the closure of Central, Hall, Horace Mann and Technical high schools on a temporary basis. In order for them to be closed permanently, the city’s voters must approve it by a vote.
The election date was to be set by Governor Faubus. Originally scheduled for Tuesday, October 7, the date was moved to September 27. Speculation for the new date selection centered on:
- Faubus wanted it to be prior to the October 1 poll tax deadline so that only people who had paid their poll tax for the prior year were eligible
- The election was on a Saturday. Though Tuesday was the most common day of the week for elections, in the late 1950s Saturdays were used on elections as well. The school board elections, for instance, were on Saturdays in some years.
- On September 27, 1958, the Arkansas Razorbacks had a home football game in Fayetteville.
These were all designed to stifle voter turnout. In addition, the state law required a majority of eligible voters to approve reopening the schools. The law also spelled out the confusing wording of the ballot question. As historian Sondra Gordy points out in her book FINDING THE LOST YEAR, the ballot question was about only being for or against integration of the schools – it did not say anything about closure or opening of schools.
While the newly formed Women’s Emergency Committee did put forth efforts to educate voters about the issue and encourage a vote to reopen the schools, this nascent group was less than a fortnight old by the Saturday election day. On the other side, the Governor campaigned for the remaining closure of the schools including in television appearances.
On that Saturday, Little Rock voters voted 19,470 to keep schools segregated to 7,561 to integrate them.
The WEC was disappointed but remained even more determined. As some of the members have commented – having over 7,000 people be WITH them was encouraging.
It would be a long road ahead to reopen the schools. It would take two more elections before the City’s four public high schools would reopen.