Little Rock Look Back: The Aftermath of the Recall

The day after the recall election, there was still uncertainty.  The results were not uncertain – even the two boxes from Woodruff Elementary which were not counted until the the day after did not change the outcome.

The uncertainty stemmed from the process.  The School Board recall law which had been hastily passed by the Arkansas General Assembly (to be used as a tool against integration), had many glaring omissions. Written by Attorney General (and avowed segregationist) Bruce Bennett, it did not indicate when recalled members lost their seats – was it after election results were announced? After they were certified? Or after the new members were appointed?

In addition, the Election Commission was prepared to certify the results, but did not know to whom they were issuing the certification.  Because it was a citizen-initiated recall for a school district race, none of the pre-existing rules applied.  And again, the Bennett bill did not spell it out.

The Pulaski County Board of Education had to wait for the results to be certified before they could appoint the three new members.  Each of these new members would stand for re-election in December at the next School Board election.

In the interim, the School Board had a scheduled meeting set for two days after the election.  But with its membership uncertain and no pressing matters, the three retained members (Everett Tucker, Russell Matson and Ted Lamb) were considering postponing the meeting.

In the coming days, the Election Commission would meet and certify the results.  They ended up sending them to the County Judge.  One of the three members appointed to fill the vacancies was ineligible (he did not live in the district).  But by the end of June, the Little Rock School Board was back to six members.

A court ruling over the summer which struck down the law allowing the closure of schools, cleared the way for Little Rock high schools to reopen as integrated in the fall.  There would be much more legal wrangling in the weeks, months and years to come.  The rate at which the Little Rock public schools were integrated was much more focused on the word “deliberate” than on “speed.”

But on May 26, 1958, those matters were for another day.  The supporters of the fired 44 teachers and the three school board members who defended them were left to savor their victory.

A look at the voting by the City’s five wards shows that while individual precinct totals varied, Messrs. Lamb, Matson and Tucker all fared well in Wards 1 and 5 as well as in Cammack Village and Absentee voting.  Ben Rowland and Bob Laster fared well in Wards 2, 3, and 4 as well as the unincorporated area around Wilson Elementary.  Ed McKinley was supported in Wards 3 & 4 as well as the Wilson Elementary environs.

Here is a breakdown of the voting locations in each Ward to give a sense of the geographic location:

Ward 1 – 16th & Park, 14th & Pulaski, 15th & State, 28th & Wolfe, 23rd & Arch

Ward 2 – 316 E. 8th, 12th & Commerce, 424 E. 21st, 1101 E Roosevelt, 6th & Fletcher

Ward 3 – County Courthouse, 1116 W Markham, 11th & Ringo, 9th & Battery, Deaf School, 7th & Johnson, Cantrell Rd in Riverdale

Ward 4 – 4710 W 12th, 3515 W 12th, 24th & Garland, 22nd & Peyton, Broadmoor Methodist

Ward 5 – Markham & Elm, Kavanaugh & Beech, Cantrell & Pierce, Kavanaugh & Harrison, Kavanaugh & McKinley, 7524 Cantrell, H & Hayes

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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.

Little Rock Look Back: Sermons, TV Shows Dominate Final Day of 1959 Recall Campaign

A rainy Sunday afternoon did not stop STOP canvassers on May 24, 1959.

Sunday, May 24, 1959, was election eve for the Recall Campaign.  As such, the election figured into some Sunday morning sermons.  Reverend M. L. Moser Jr. spoke from the pulpit of his church and described the issue of segregation as Biblical. As many had before him, and would after him, he used the story of Noah’s three sons as a way to justify segregation of the races.

(Supposedly one of the sons was the father of the white race, one the father of the African American race, and one the father of the Asian race.  In this narrative, no explanation is given for other variations such as Native Americans and other indigenous people or persons from the sub-continent of India.  Also excluded is the likely race of everyone in the story – those who live in the Middle East.)

At Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, Dean Charles A. Higgins prayed for the schools but did not tell his parishioners how to vote.  Rev. Aubrey G. Walton at First Methodist Church spoke about the schools needing to be free from politics and pressure groups.  (Though Rev. Walton did later appear that evening on a STOP sponsored TV show.)

Embattled School Board president Ed McKinley refused requests from the media and others to divulge his plans for the future of the Little Rock School District.  Earlier he had stated he had an idea on how the schools could be reopened and segregated, but still remain in compliance with the courts.  Across the river, segregationists were planning a rally in North Little Rock to head off any plans for future integration on the north side.  Congressman Alford had already agreed to speak at this rally.

In paid time on TV, Governor Faubus spoke at length in a criticism of the Arkansas Gazette. He called the fired teachers pawns in a larger game.  He noted in his remarks that he did not expect to sway any votes by this point.

Not to be outdone, STOP was on all three TV stations. Sometimes the program was aired on more than one station simultaneously.  In an appearance sponsored by STOP, William S. Mitchell noted that May 24 was coincidentally Children’s Day.  He noted that never before in Little Rock history had so many people volunteered for a cause as those who had worked on STOP and with STOP.  The Women’s Emergency Committee, PTA Council, labor unions, and numerous other organizations had come together to raise money, knock on doors, and otherwise get the word out.

Finally, it was all over but the voting.  Nineteen days of outrage, exasperation, and hyperbole was coming to an end.  When dawn broke, it would be election day.

Little Rock Look Back: End near for 1959 School Board Recall Election

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.

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.