Desegregation of Lower Arkansas River Valley Schools
Desegregation of schools in the Lower Arkansas River Valley began primarily because the one area school to which others sent their African American students raised tuition rates. As one school district in the area shifted from busing its students away to desegregating its own schools, the rest soon followed, motivated in part by avoiding litigation.
The catalyst for desegregation in the Lower Arkansas River Valley was the Morrilton School District’s announcement of an increase in tuition fees for incoming Black students in fall 1964. Previously, several school districts in surrounding areas had avoided providing educational facilities for their small Black student populations by busing their students to the historically Black Sullivan High School in Morrilton (Conway County).
On March 27, 1964, the Russellville School Board received a petition with ninety signatures from Black parents asking them to allow the thirty-five Black students in the district, who were bused on a fifty-two-mile daily round trip to Morrilton, to attend local white schools. On April 28, the school board at Russellville (Pope County) agreed to the request.
On May 22, the Danville School Board, which bused four Black students on a 108-mile daily round trip to Morrilton, announced that the students would be enrolled into its white high school.
On May 25, the Dardanelle School Board, which bused ten Black students on a seventy-mile daily round trip to Morrilton, announced that it would, “admit all children eligible to attend the high school living within boundaries regardless of race or creed.” It stated that it would continue to operate its segregated Douglass Elementary School, although this was eventually closed in 1965.
Three other school districts in the area announced desegregation plans soon after. Havana (Yell County), with a population of 277, had bused two Black students on a 120-mile daily round trip to Morrilton. It planned to enroll all thirteen of its Black students in all grades in 1964. Atkins (Pope County) had bused twenty-five Black students on a twenty-eight-mile daily round trip to Morrilton. It planned to enroll all Black students at high school level but retain segregated education in the lower grades. Ola (Yell County), with a population of 805, had bused six Black students on a seventy-mile daily round trip to Morrilton. It planned to desegregate all school grades.
Danville (Yell County), Dardanelle (Yell County), Havana, and Ola had all previously jointly contributed to funding a bus to take their Black students to Morrilton. Once Dardanelle pulled out of the arrangement, the other school districts said they had little choice but to desegregate, since they could no longer afford to bus their Black students.
For additional information:
Kirk, John A. “Not Quite Black and White: School Desegregation in Arkansas, 1954–1966.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 70 (Autumn 2011): 225–257.
John A. Kirk
University of Arkansas at Little Rock
No comments on this entry yet.
"*" indicates required fields