Little Rock Culture Vulture

Cultural events, places and people in the Little Rock area


Little Rock Look Back: Brown v. Board of Education

On May 17, 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its ruling in Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka.  

This landmark United States Supreme Court case declared state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students to be unconstitutional. The decision overturned 1896’s Plessy v. Ferguson decision, which allowed state-sponsored segregation in public education. In a unanimous 9-0 decision, the Warren Court stated “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”  The results of this decision would be tested on the streets of Little Rock in 1957.Th

The Court’s fourteen page decision did not spell out any sort of method for ending racial segregation in schools, and the Court’s second decision in Brown II, muddied the waters even further by only ordering states to desegregate with the oxymoronic “all deliberate speed.”

Brown v. Board grew out of a class action suit filed in Topeka, Kansas, by thirteen African American parents on behalf of their children.  Mr. Oliver Brown was the only male. He was chosen to be the lead plaintiff, because it was felt that the court would look more favorably on a male plaintiff.  The District Court ruled in favor of the Board of Education, citing Plessy v. Ferguson.  The court did note that segregation had a detrimental effect on African American students, but that since the Topeka schools were substantially equal, there was no relief to be granted.

When it was appealed to the Supreme Court, Brown v. Board was combined with four other cases from other jurisdictions.  All were NAACP sponsored cases.  Thurgood Marshall was the lead attorney for the plaintiffs.  In December 1952, the Justice Department filed a “friend of the court” brief and argued, in part, that racial segregation had a detrimental effect on US foreign policy. Communist countries were using racial separation in anti-US propaganda.

In the spring of 1953, the Supreme Court held the case.  Unable to decide the issue, they reheard it in the fall of 1953.  They then put special emphasis on the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause.

During deliberations, Chief Justice Earl Warren insisted on a unanimous ruling to avoid massive Southern resistance.

Since the Topeka schools were found to be substantially equal, the Court’s ruling was important in noting that the harm came from the separation.  While there was no doubt that many (if not most) African American public schools were inferior in infrastructure and supplies to white schools – that in and of itself was not the issue.

School leaders in Little Rock started perusing the Brown decision and considering how the Little Rock School District would comply.

 

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Women’s History Month – Sue Cowan Williams

Sue Cowan Williams was an educator who fought for fair treatment.

After being educated in Alabama and Illinois, she returned to Arkansas, and began her teaching career in 1935 at Dunbar High School in Little Rock.  In 1942, Williams became the plaintiff in a lawsuit aimed at equalizing the salaries of black and white teachers in the Little Rock School District. The NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund, including its director-counsel Thurgood Marshall, assisted in the case. The trial ended after a week with a verdict against Williams, and her teaching contract was not renewed for the 1942-43 school year. Other black educators left the school as a result of their involvement in the lawsuit.

In 1945, Williams successfully appealed the verdict to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeal in St. Louis, which ordered equal pay for black and white teachers in Little Rock. Dr. Christophe, the new principal of Dunbar High School, demanded Williams’s reinstatement in the fall of the same year, but it was not granted until 1952. In the intervening years, she taught classes at what is now UAPB and Arkansas Baptist College as well as at the Ordnance Plant in Jacksonville.  Upon returning to the LRSD, Williams taught at Dunbar until 1974, when she retired. She died in 1994.

The Central Arkansas Library Branch located in the Dunbar neighborhood was named for her when it opened in 1997.  She is honored with inclusion in the Arkansas Civil Rights Heritage Trail.


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.


Black History Month Spotlight – L.C. and Daisy Bates House

Bates HouseThe new Arkansas Civil Rights History Audio Tour was launched in November 2015. Produced by the City of Little Rock and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock allows the many places and stories of the City’s Civil Rights history to come to life an interactive tour.  This month, during Black History Month, the Culture Vulture looks at some of the stops on this tour which focus on African American history.

L.C. and Daisy Bates were civil rights activists and co-owners and publishers of the Arkansas State Press newspaper. During the 1957 school desegregation crisis of Central High School, their home functioned as headquarters for the “Little Rock Nine,” the first black students to attend the school. The Bateses’ home provided a safe-haven for “the Nine.” It was a refuge, a place to study and receive counseling to contend with frequent harassment by white students and other staunch segregationists who demonstrated outside the school.

“The Nine” also visited with the NAACP legal team of Thurgood Marshall and Wiley Branton, who worked on the school desegregation case of Aaron v. Cooper. Daisy Bates, a mentor to the Nine, was president of the Arkansas State Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP.) For taking a stand against segregated schools, L.C. and Daisy Bates had numerous missiles hurled at their home during the school crisis and had several fiery crosses—an emblem of the white terror organization the Ku Klux Klan— burned on their lawn. Segregationists mounted a boycott of the Arkansas State Press newspaper, putting it out of business in 1959.

In 2001, it was declared a National Historic Landmark.  The house is now being restored and turned into a museum.

The app, funded by a generous grant from the Arkansas Humanities Council, was a collaboration among UALR’s Institute on Race and Ethnicity, the City of Little Rock, the Mayor’s Tourism Commission, and KUAR, UALR’s public radio station, with assistance from the Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau.


Black History Month Spotlight – Sue Cowan Williams Library

sue_cowan_williamsThe new Arkansas Civil Rights History Audio Tour was launched in November 2015. Produced by the City of Little Rock and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock allows the many places and stories of the City’s Civil Rights history to come to life an interactive tour.  This month, during Black History Month, the Culture Vulture looks at some of the stops on this tour which focus on African American history.

In 1945, Sue Cowan Williams successfully sued the Little Rock School District for equal pay for black and white teachers. The existing inequality in pay clearly did not meet the stipulation of “separate but equal” treatment of African Americans required by the law.

Williams was chair of the English Department at Dunbar High School. She had attended Spelman College in Atlanta, Talladega College in Alabama, and the University of Chicago. These impressive credentials made her an ideal standard bearer for the suit. Local lawyers, along with the NAACP’s Thurgood Marshall, successfully appealed Williams’ case to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis. In the meantime, however, Williams’ contract was not renewed at Dunbar.

After working several other jobs, she was eventually rehired in 1952. She remained at Dunbar until her retirement in 1974. Williams died in 1994. In 1997, the tenth library in the Central Arkansas Library System was dedicated as the Sue Cowan Williams Library in her honor.

The app, funded by a generous grant from the Arkansas Humanities Council, was a collaboration among UALR’s Institute on Race and Ethnicity, the City of Little Rock, the Mayor’s Tourism Commission, and KUAR, UALR’s public radio station, with assistance from the Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau.


Tonight at Clinton School – Discussion of Thurgood Marshall and 1949 Groveland Boys Case

UACS DevilBefore he was on the Supreme Court, before he supported the Little Rock Nine, before Brown v. Board of Education, Thurgood Marshall was a longtime crusader not just for civil rights, but for human rights.  T

Tonight at the Clinton School, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Gilbert King, Justice Marshall’s son, Thurgood Marshall, Jr., will discuss the 1949 Groveland Boys case.

Gilbert King is the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys and the Dawn of a New America. The book, about four black men falsely accused of raping Norma Lee Padgett, a 17-year-old white woman in Groveland, Fla. in 1949, unearthed a largely forgotten chapter in the long history of racial injustice in the United States, and explored, in painstaking details, the tactics used by Thurgood Marshall, the future Supreme Court Justice, to chip away at the foundations of Jim Crow law.

The program will begin at 6pm at the Clinton School of Public Service.  A book signing will follow.