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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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.

 

Little Rock Look Back: 60 years ago today – the inaugural Central vs. Hall Thanksgiving Football Game

A Central vs. Hall Thanksgiving Day game (though not from 1958)

On November 27, 1958, the Central High Tigers and Hall High Warriors faced off for the first time in a Thanksgiving Day football game.

Playing on Thanksgiving had been a Central High tradition since 1914. But for Hall High, in only its second year, this was a new occurrence.  The Tiger-Warrior faceoff on Thanksgiving would be a 25 year tradition.

The games were always played at Quigley Stadium, which was at the time the home stadium for all of the Little Rock School District’s high schools (the third high school Parkview opened in 1968).  Each year Central and Hall would alternate which was the “Home” team.

The week leading to the game would feature skits and pep rallies at both high schools.  Pranks, rumors of pranks, and threats of retribution would abound between the schools.  Cars wrapped in orange and white would circle the Central campus one day, while black and gold cars would encircle Hall’s campus another day.

On game day there would be special performances at the stadium by the drill teams, cheerleaders and bands of both schools.  The Tiger and Warrior mascots would taunt each other.  Friendships between students at the rival schools were put on hold.  It was all about the tradition and THE GAME.  Church services, family dinners and any other activities were scheduled around the festivities at Quigley.

Hall High opened its doors and started playing football in 1957. As a new school with a largely younger student body, it only played smaller schools that initial season.  The first Hall vs. Central game was set for Thanksgiving 1958.

During the 1958-1959 school year, Little Rock’s high schools were closed for the ill-conceived, ill-advised reason to keep them from being integrated schools.  Though classes were not in session, football teams practiced and played.  The Arkansas Gazette noted that most of those games that season drew only 1,000 spectators, which was down from the usual 5,000 to 8,000 a game.

With the future of Little Rock’s high schools in doubt, there was some hand wringing about whether the 1958 game would be not only the first meeting between Hall and Central, but perhaps also the last.  In only its second year of playing, Hall was undefeated and poised to win the state championship heading into the Thanksgiving game.

Central surprised the Warriors by winning 7-0 before a crowd of 5,000, which cost Hall the undefeated season and the championship (El Dorado became state champs).  This game set the tone for the high stakes of the rest of the series.

The next year classes were back in session at Hall and Central. The future of the series was not in doubt.