Educational Issues and Controversies

Entries - Entry Category: Educational Issues and Controversies

Amendment 33

Amendment 33 was the first of three constitutional amendments ratified by voters in the decade after the beginning of World War II to try to curb political interference with large government agencies and institutions. It prohibited the governor and the Arkansas General Assembly from diminishing the powers of state agencies and institutions, as well as from interfering with their governing boards by dismissing members before their terms expired or increasing or reducing the membership of the boards. The amendment, ratified in 1942, followed Governor Homer M. Adkins’s purging of the board of the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County) in order to fire the university’s president J. William Fulbright, who was the son of a political foe of …

Arkansas Scholarship Lottery

The Arkansas Scholarship Lottery is a system of games of chance, implemented to generate revenue to fund the state’s Academic Challenge Scholarship program for qualified high school graduates. The Arkansas Scholarship Lottery was made possible by the 2008 passage of Proposed Constitutional Amendment No. 3, which amended the state constitution to make a statewide lottery program legal. By fall 2016, more than 200,000 students had received an Academic Challenge Scholarship to attend a two-year or four-year institution of higher education in the state of Arkansas. Although it was not until 2008 that Arkansas voters passed a constitutional amendment to allow the creation of a lottery, the topic had been debated in the state for a number of years. In 1990, …

Bates, Daisy Lee Gatson

Daisy Lee Gatson Bates was a mentor to the Little Rock Nine, the African-American students who integrated Central High School in Little Rock in 1957. She and the Little Rock Nine gained national and international recognition for their courage and persistence during the desegregation of Central High when Governor Orval Faubus ordered members of the Arkansas National Guard to prevent the entry of black students. She and her husband, Lucious Christopher (L. C.) Bates, published the Arkansas State Press, a newspaper dealing primarily with civil rights and other issues in the black community. The identity of Daisy Gatson’s birth parents has not been conclusively established. Before the age of seven, she was taken in as a foster child by Susie …

Beals, Melba Pattillo

Melba Pattillo Beals made history as a member of the Little Rock Nine, the nine African-American students involved in the desegregation of Little Rock Central High School in 1957. The world watched as they braved constant intimidation and threats from those who opposed desegregation of the formerly all-white high school. She later recounted this harrowing year in her book titled Warriors Don’t Cry: A Searing Memoir of the Battle to Desegregate Little Rock’s Central High School. Melba Pattillo was born on December 7, 1941, in Little Rock (Pulaski County). Beals grew up surrounded by family members who knew the importance of an education. Her mother, Lois Marie Pattillo, PhD, was one of the first black graduates of the University of …

Brewer, Vivion Mercer Lenon

Vivion Mercer Lenon Brewer is best known for helping to found the Women’s Emergency Committee to Open Our Schools (WEC) in 1958 during the desegregation of Central High School in Little Rock (Pulaski County). She helped arrange the WEC’s initial meeting and served as the organization’s first chairperson until September 1960. Vivion Lenon was born on October 6, 1900, in Little Rock to Warren E. and Clara (Mercer) Lenon. She graduated from Little Rock High School (now Central High) in 1917 and attended Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, where she majored in sociology and graduated in 1921. In 1926, she enrolled in the Arkansas Law School in Little Rock and worked in her father’s bank, People’s Savings Bank, in Little …

Capital Citizens’ Council (CCC)

The Capital Citizens’ Council (CCC) was one of many similar organizations established throughout the South to resist implementation of the U.S. Supreme Court’s May 1954 decision that school segregation was contrary to the Fourteenth Amendment. Formed in 1956 from a Little Rock (Pulaski County) affiliate of the like-minded Pine Bluff (Jefferson County) group, White America Incorporated, to oppose School Superintendent Virgil Blossom’s plan for the gradual integration of Little Rock’s schools, the CCC was the most important segregationist organization during the desegregation of Little Rock Central High School. The CCC combined traditional racist rhetoric about miscegenation and states’ rights diatribes with allegations of integrationist bias against working-class people. It claimed that there was an alliance between the National Association for …

Central High School, Desegregation of

aka: Crisis at Central High
aka: Little Rock Desegregation Crisis
In its 1954 Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that racial segregation in public education was a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. As school districts across the South sought various ways to respond to the court’s ruling, Little Rock (Pulaski County) Central High School became a national and international symbol of resistance to desegregation. On May 22, 1954, the Little Rock School Board issued a statement saying that it would comply with the Court’s decision, once the court outlined the method and time frame for implementation. Meanwhile, the board directed Superintendent Virgil Blossom to formulate a plan for desegregation. In May 1955, the school board adopted the Phase Program …

Charleston Schools, Desegregation of

Much has been written about the Little Rock School District desegregation in 1957. However, the Charleston Public School District quietly and successfully integrated first through twelfth grades, without any publicity until about three weeks after school had opened for the fall term in 1954. Charleston was the first school district in the former Confederate states to integrate all twelve grades, and because of this, Charleston School District has been named a National Commemorative Site by the U.S. Department of the Interior National Park Service. Following the May 17, 1954, U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas that deemed state laws mandating public school segregation unconstitutional under the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, …

Charter Schools

Charter schools are public schools that operate on a contract, or charter, which allows them increased operational autonomy in exchange for greater accountability for performance. Although charter schools do have greater freedom regarding some aspects of schooling—such as curriculum or scheduling decisions—state laws govern how charter schools are authorized, the possible length of a charter, how many charter schools may exist in a state, and who may teach in a charter school. In 2018, approximately 3.2 million students attended more than 7,000 charter schools nationwide. In Arkansas, approximately 28,200 students attended eighty-two charter schools. In Arkansas, these schools are granted provisional charters for up to five years, after which the Arkansas State Board of Education reviews their academic and fiscal …

Committee to Retain Our Segregated Schools (CROSS)

Formed in 1959 to bolster the segregationist cause in the aftermath of the desegregation of Central High School in Little Rock (Pulaski County), the Committee to Retain Our Segregated Schools (CROSS) represented one of the many political pressure groups active in the city during the late 1950s. During the so-called Lost Year of 1958–59, Little Rock’s public schools were closed by Governor Orval Faubus, foreshadowing a subtler assault on integrationists and moderates within the school system. The Arkansas General Assembly Extraordinary Session of 1958 subsequently passed Act 10, requiring teachers to sign affidavits listing their membership in all organizations. Act 115 passed by the Regular Session of 1959 called for the dismissal of any teacher who was a member of …

Earle Race Riot of 1970

The Earle Race Riot of 1970 broke out in the late evening of September 10 and continued into the early hours of September 11, 1970. The violence erupted when a group of whites armed with guns and clubs attacked a group of unarmed African Americans who were marching to the Earle (Crittenden County) city hall to protest segregated conditions in the town’s school system. Five African Americans were wounded, including two women who were shot (one wounded seriously), but they all survived. Among the wounded were the Reverend Ezra Greer, who was a civil rights activist, and his wife, Jackie Greer. Both of the Greers were running for elected office in Earle. Earle’s black residents had been advocating for racial …

Eckford, Elizabeth Ann

Elizabeth Ann Eckford made history as a member of the Little Rock Nine, the nine African-American students who desegregated Little Rock Central High School in 1957. The image of fifteen-year-old Eckford, walking alone through a screaming mob in front of Central High School, propelled the crisis into the nation’s living rooms and brought international attention to Little Rock (Pulaski County). Elizabeth Eckford was born on October 4, 1941, to Oscar and Birdie Eckford, and is one of six children. Her father worked nights as a dining car maintenance worker for the Missouri Pacific Railroad’s Little Rock station. Her mother taught at the segregated state school for blind and deaf children, instructing them in how to wash and iron for themselves. …

Education Reform

Education reform, the process of improving public education through changes in public policy, has been slow and often ineffective in Arkansas. All aspects of public education are open to reform, including school finance, teacher quality, curriculum, transportation, and school facilities. Modern education reforms in Arkansas include school choice initiatives, alternative teacher pay, and standards-based accountability and testing. Arkansas has historically been one of the lowest-performing states academically, and even today, despite major improvements in funding and student achievement during the last decade, Arkansas still ranks below the national average on many objective measures. Arkansas also has one of the most undereducated populations in the nation in terms of the percentage of adults with college degrees and the percentage of high …

Epperson v. Arkansas

Epperson v. Arkansas, a case argued before the U.S. Supreme Court, challenged the right of a state to outlaw the teaching of evolution in public schools. On November 12, 1968, the Supreme Court ruled that Arkansas’s Initiated Act Number 1, an antievolution law approved by Arkansas voters in 1928, violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment and was therefore unconstitutional, thus setting a legal trend for the nation as a whole. The antievolution movement in Arkansas came into its own just as it was declining nationwide. The 1925 Scopes “Monkey” Trial made fundamentalist groups objects of ridicule and thus sent them retreating from the cultural and political mainstream. In January 1927, however, State Representative Astor L. Rotenberry of Pulaski …

Evolution, Teaching of

Few educational issues have caused as much vehement debate in Arkansas as the teaching of evolutionary theory—the scientific proposition that species change, or evolve, over time, primarily through the mechanism of natural selection. Books and articles have been written, laws passed, sermons delivered, and trials held, with the defenders and the critics of the teaching of evolution united only in their belief that the handling of this subject in Arkansas classrooms was a matter of the gravest importance. Passions and tempers remain high even into the twenty-first century. By the late nineteenth century, many people in Arkansas, indeed all over America, were becoming increasingly disturbed by modernization, with its sweeping changes in the way people lived and thought. These changes …

Fayetteville Schools, Desegregation of

Between 1954 and 1965, Fayetteville (Washington County) underwent the gradual integration of all primary and secondary schools. Though the Fayetteville School District (FSD) was quick to integrate at the high school and junior high levels, new state laws and concerns from the Fayetteville School Board slowed the speed of integration at the elementary level. In the first few weeks of its efforts, however, Fayetteville was presented in the media as the first city in the former Confederacy to desegregate its schools; Charleston (Franklin County) schools had done so earlier, but officials and residents there worked to keep it secret from the outside world for several weeks. Prior to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education of …

Green, Ernest Gideon

Ernest Gideon Green made history as the only senior of the Little Rock Nine, the nine African-American students who, in 1957, desegregated Central High School in Little Rock (Pulaski County). The world watched as they braved constant intimidation and threats from those who opposed desegregation of the formerly all-white high school. Green’s place in Arkansas’s civil rights history was solidified when he became the first African American to graduate from the previously all-white Central High School. Ernest Green was born in Little Rock on September 22, 1941, to Lothaire and Ernest Green Sr. Green has two siblings: one brother, Scott, and one sister, Treopia Washington An active member of the community from an early age, Green regularly attended church and …

Hoxie Schools, Desegregation of

During the summer and autumn of 1955, proponents and opponents of school integration across America were watching what Cabell Phillips of the New York Times called “a battle in a test tube.” The scene of the “battle” was Hoxie (Lawrence County), a small community in the northeastern part of Arkansas. Phillips’s dispatches turned the isolated rural town into a focal point for the nation. While not the earliest instance of desegregation in the state—Fayetteville (Washington County) and Charleston (Franklin County) were peacefully integrated the previous year—Hoxie’s attempt was the first to be met with active resistance. In 1955, Hoxie, with its population of 1,855 residents, was a collection of one- and two-story structures strung along the tracks of the Missouri …

Hunt, Silas Herbert

Silas Herbert Hunt was a veteran of World War II and a pioneer in the integration of higher education in Arkansas and the South. In 1948, he was admitted to the University of Arkansas School of Law, thus becoming the first African-American student admitted to the university since Reconstruction and, more importantly, the first black student to be admitted for graduate or professional studies at any all-white university in the former Confederacy. Silas Hunt was born on March 1, 1922, in Ashdown (Little River County) to Jessie Gulley Moton and R. D. Hunt. In 1936, his family moved to Texarkana (Miller County), where he attended Booker T. Washington High School; there, he received distinction as a member of the debate …

Jim DuPree v. Alma School District No. 30

Jim DuPree et al. v. Alma School District No. 30 et al. was a lawsuit that triggered twenty-five years of litigation and legislation to raise the quality of and increase funding for public education in Arkansas. The Arkansas Supreme Court ruled on the suit on May 31, 1983, concluding that the state government had consistently failed to provide the money and programs that would guarantee a suitable education for all children in Arkansas regardless of where they lived. The decision was the springboard that Governor Bill Clinton used that fall to push a raft of education reforms—including higher taxes—through the Arkansas General Assembly and the state Board of Education. A decade later, the issues were revived by a succession of …

Karlmark, Gloria Cecelia Ray

Gloria Cecelia Ray Karlmark made history as a member of the Little Rock Nine, the nine African-American students who desegregated Central High School in Little Rock (Pulaski County) in 1957. The world watched as they braved constant intimidation and threats from those who opposed desegregation of the formerly all-white high school. Gloria Ray was born on September 26, 1942, in Little Rock, one of the three children of Harvey C. and Julia Miller Ray. By the time Ray entered Central High, her father was retired from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, where he had founded the Arkansas Agricultural Extension Service for Negroes, and her mother was a sociologist working for the state of Arkansas. Ray was a fifteen-year-old student at …

Lake View School District No. 25 v. Huckabee

The court case Lake View School District No. 25 v. Huckabee examined the structure for the funding of Arkansas schools in a grueling, fifteen-year process. This case led to the subsequent overhaul of public school funding with the aim to be more fair and exact and to benefit all Arkansas students equally. In 1992, the school district of Lake View (Phillips County) first brought its case against the State of Arkansas, claiming that the funding system for the public schools violated both the state’s constitution and the U.S. Constitution because it was inequitable and inadequate. At that time, schools received funding from three levels of government: local, state, and federal. Because some local governments had more tax money available for …

Lamb, Theodore Lafayette

Theodore Lafayette Lamb was a key participant in the Little Rock Central High School desegregation crisis in 1958–59. He was also a prominent civil rights and labor attorney from 1967 until his death. Ted Lamb was born on April 11, 1927 in Detroit, Michigan, the son of Foster Lamb and Theodosia Braswell Lamb. His father was a butcher by trade and moved his family to Arkansas in the early 1930s; the family settled on a farm near Bryant (Saline County). Lamb was educated in the Little Rock (Pulaski County) schools. He was president of the student council at Little Rock High School, now Central High School in 1944. Upon graduation, he enlisted in the U.S. Army and was posted to …

LaNier, Carlotta Walls

Carlotta Walls LaNier made history as the youngest member of the Little Rock Nine, the nine African-American students who desegregated Central High School in Little Rock (Pulaski County) in 1957. The oldest of three daughters, Carlotta Walls was born on December 18, 1942, in Little Rock to Juanita and Cartelyou Walls. Her father was a brick mason and a World War II veteran, and her mother was a secretary in the Office of Public Housing. Inspired by Rosa Parks, whose refusal to give up her bus seat to a white passenger sparked the 1955 Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott, as well as the desire to get the best education available, Walls enrolled in Central High School as a sophomore. Some white …

Little Rock Nine

The Little Rock Nine were the nine African-American students involved in the desegregation of Little Rock Central High School. Their entrance into the school in 1957 sparked a nationwide crisis when Arkansas governor Orval Faubus, in defiance of a federal court order, called out the Arkansas National Guard to prevent the Nine from entering. President Dwight D. Eisenhower responded by federalizing the National Guard and sending in units of the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division to escort the Nine into the school on September 25, 1957. The military presence remained for the duration of the school year. Before transferring to Central, the Nine attended segregated schools for black students in Little Rock (Pulaski County). Carlotta Walls, Jefferson Thomas, and Gloria …

Lost Cause Myth of the Confederacy

The Lost Cause myth consists of a set of ideas about the history of the South that developed following the American Civil War. These beliefs, which are largely considered by historians to be false, were advanced by contemporary Southerners as the so-called true story of the nature of the antebellum South, the reasons for Southern secession, and the character of the South’s people during the course of the war. The story comprised a defense of the South’s “peculiar institution” (slavery), secession, and the war. In Arkansas, the Lost Cause narrative developed with the emergence of various Confederate heritage organizations after the 1890s. These organizations worked to ensure that their interpretation was integrated into the accepted history of the state and …

Lost Year

“The Lost Year” refers to the 1958–59 school year in Little Rock (Pulaski County), when all the city’s high schools were closed in an effort to block desegregation. One year after Governor Faubus used state troops to thwart federal court mandates for desegregation by the Little Rock Nine at Central High School, in September 1958, he invoked newly passed state laws to forestall further desegregation and closed Little Rock’s four high schools: Central High, Hall High, Little Rock Technical High (a white school), and Horace Mann (a black school). A total of 3,665 students, both black and white, were denied a free public education for an entire year which, increased racial tensions and further divided the community into opposing camps. …

McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education

The 1981–82 federal court case McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education constituted a challenge to the state’s Act 590, which mandated the equal treatment of creation science in classrooms where evolution was taught. On January 5, 1982, U.S. District Court Judge William R. Overton ruled Act 590 unconstitutional in light of the establishment clause of the First Amendment. His determination that creationism constituted a religious doctrine rather than a scientific theory had a profound impact on the nation, the ramifications of which are still being felt today. The draft of the model act which eventually became Act 590 originated in an Anderson, South Carolina, organization called Citizens for Fairness in Education. Its founder, Paul Ellwanger, working from a model prepared …

Mercer, Christopher Columbus, Jr.

Christopher Columbus Mercer Jr. was an advisor to Daisy Bates during the 1957 desegregation of Little Rock Central High School. As field secretary for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), his legal background helped Bates understand and respond to the flood of litigation against the NAACP. Christopher Mercer was born Castor Mercer Jr. on March 27, 1924, in Pine Bluff (Jefferson County), to Castor C. and Tarvell Linda Mercer; his mother soon changed his name. His father worked as a mechanic for the St. Louis Southwestern (Cotton Belt) Railroad. His mother owned a dry-cleaning business. He has one brother and one half-brother. Mercer received his AB in social services from Arkansas Agricultural, Mechanical & Normal College …

Morrilton School District No. 32 et al. v. United States of America

Morrilton School District No. 32 et al. v. United States of America was a school desegregation case that began in 1972. However, aspects of the lengthy litigation were still being contested into the mid-1980s. The case began in December 1972 when the U.S. Department of Justice filed suit against the State of Arkansas, the Arkansas Department of Education, the members of the state Board of Education, and the school districts of Conway County, as well as the local school board members and superintendents. The federal government charged that, in the process of consolidating the county’s school districts in response to a federal desegregation order, the school officials had in fact purposely created segregated school districts and, in doing so, had …

Mothers’ League of Central High School

Inferior in numbers and public standing only to its sponsor, the Capital Citizens’ Council (CCC), the Mothers’ League of Central High School was the second most important segregationist organization during the desegregation of Little Rock Central High School. Established in August 1957 by Merrill Taylor, a Little Rock (Pulaski County) salesman, and other members of the CCC to give their opposition to School Superintendent Virgil Blossom’s plan for the gradual integration of Little Rock schools a less strident, more “feminine” edge, the league was an inflammatory influence for two years but was never as combative and potent as its patron. The league combined traditional segregationist enthusiasm for the racial status quo, states’ rights, and anti-miscegenation initiatives with womanly concern for …

Negro Boys Industrial School Fire of 1959

aka: Wrightsville Fire of 1959
On March 5, 1959, twenty-one African-American boys burned to death inside a dormitory at an Arkansas reform school in Wrightsville (Pulaski County). The doors were locked from the outside. The fire mysteriously ignited around 4:00 a.m. on a cold, wet morning, following earlier thunderstorms in the same area of rural Pulaski County. The institution was one mile down a dirt road from the mostly black town of Wrightsville, then an unincorporated hamlet thirteen miles south of Little Rock (Pulaski County). Forty-eight children, ages thirteen to seventeen, managed to claw their way to safety by knocking out two of the window screens. Amidst the choking, blinding smoke and heat, four or five boys at a time tried to fight their way …

North Little Rock Six

The North Little Rock Six were six African-American students who attempted to desegregate North Little Rock High School on September 9, 1957. Two years earlier, the North Little Rock School Board voted to begin integrating classes at the twelfth-grade level; however, after Arkansas governor Orval E. Faubus publicly stated opposition to the integration of Little Rock Central High School and summoned the Arkansas National Guard to the school on September 2, 1957, the directors of the North Little Rock School Board put a halt to their integration plan. Seven seniors from the all-black Scipio Jones High School initially registered to attend North Little Rock High for the 1957–58 school year, but only six students attempted to enroll. They were Richard …

Panel of American Women

The Little Rock Panel of American Women was organized in 1963 by Sara Alderman Murphy. It was based on the national Panel of American Women that emerged in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1956, and it offered participants the opportunity to learn more about people of different races, religions, and cultures. In the aftermath of the 1957 school desegregation crisis in Little Rock (Pulaski County) and the continued efforts to desegregate schools across the state, the panel provided a structured forum for open discussion about racial and religious differences. The organization’s members traveled around Arkansas to speak. The panels consisted of five or six women—Jewish, Catholic, African American, white Protestant, and occasionally Asian American—and a moderator. Each woman spoke about her …

Pruden, James Wesley, Sr.

James Wesley Pruden Sr., a Southern Baptist minister, was first chaplain and then president of the Little Rock (Pulaski County) chapter of the White Citizens’ Council during the volatile school desegregation period of 1957–58. Pruden led a campaign in the newspapers and in the streets to stop the desegregation of Central High School. Journalist Roy Reed’s analysis of Pruden is that, had it not been for the school crisis, he would have been “destined for the obscurity of a second-tier Baptist Church,” and that he was “a man whose ambition out-paced his abilities.” Wesley Pruden was the great-grandson of John Pruden, a North Carolina slaveholder. He was born near Alexander (Pulaski and Saline counties) in 1908. He moved early in …

Roberts, Terrence James

Terrence James Roberts made history as a member of the Little Rock Nine, the nine African-American students who desegregated Little Rock Central High School in 1957. The world watched as they braved constant intimidation and threats from those who opposed integration of the formerly all-white high school. Terrence Roberts, the eldest of seven children, was born on December 3, 1941, in Little Rock (Pulaski County) to William and Margaret Roberts. His father was a World War II naval veteran who worked at the Veteran’s Administration (VA) hospital in North Little Rock (Pulaski County), and his mother ran a catering service from home. Roberts was a sophomore at Horace Mann High School when he volunteered to integrate Little Rock’s Central High …

Samuel, Irene Gaston

Irene Gaston Samuel is best known for her work with the Women’s Emergency Committee to Open Our Schools (WEC) that arose in the fall of 1958 during the Little Rock desegregation crisis. Samuel served as the organization’s executive secretary until it disbanded in 1963. Later in her life, she worked as an administrative assistant for Governor (and later U.S. Senator) Dale Bumpers until she retired in 1981. Irene Gaston was born on March 21, 1915, in Van Buren (Crawford County) to Martin Luther and Grace Whitley Gaston. She grew up in Little Rock (Pulaski County) and graduated in 1931 from Little Rock Senior High School (now Central High School). After working for the state Department of Labor and in the …

School Consolidation

When relating to public education, the term “consolidation” refers to the combining of schools, districts, or administrative units in rural communities as a way to save costs and broaden educational opportunities. This highly contentious education policy has been implemented since the nineteenth century across the country in states such as New York, Kansas, Vermont, and Wyoming. In Arkansas, rural schools and districts have faced consolidation policies throughout most of the history of public education in the state. The most recent wave of school consolidation occurred as part of Governor Mike Huckabee’s response to the Arkansas Supreme Court’s 2002 ruling in Lake View School District vs. Huckabee, which stated that the state’s school funding system was unconstitutional. Early efforts to consolidate …

Stop This Outrageous Purge (STOP)

A hastily formed organization created during the “Lost Year” of 1958–59—in which Little Rock (Pulaski County) public schools were closed in the wake of the desegregation crisis at Little Rock Central High School—Stop This Outrageous Purge (STOP) emerged as a powerful local counterweight to segregationists. The group successfully challenged the dominance of segregationists on the Little Rock School Board, and their efforts marked a turning point in the city’s desegregation controversy. In September 1958, citing the recent passage of state laws designed to avoid further integration, Governor Orval Faubus closed Little Rock’s four high schools: Central High, Hall High, Little Rock Technical High, and Horace Mann. Black and white students were thus denied public education for an entire school year. …

Thomas, Jefferson Allison

Jefferson Allison Thomas made history as a member of the Little Rock Nine, the nine African-American students who desegregated Little Rock Central High School in 1957. The world watched as they braved constant intimidation and threats from those who opposed desegregation of the formerly all-white high school. Jefferson Thomas was born the youngest of seven children on September 19, 1942, in Little Rock to Mr. and Mrs. Ellis Thomas. Thomas was a track athlete at all-black Horace Mann High School in Little Rock (Pulaski County) when he chose to volunteer to integrate all-white Central High School for the 1957–58 school year as a sophomore. The Nine were harassed daily by some white students, and Thomas’s quiet demeanor made him a …

Trickey, Minnijean Brown

Minnijean Brown Trickey made history as one of the Little Rock Nine, the nine African-American students who desegregated Little Rock Central High School in 1957. The world watched as they braved constant intimidation and threats from those who opposed desegregation of the formerly all-white high school. Minnijean Brown, the eldest of four children of Willie and Imogene Brown, was born on September 11, 1941, in Little Rock (Pulaski County). Her mother was a homemaker and nurse’s aid during the crisis, and her father was an independent mason and landscaping contractor. She is the sister of the late Bobby Brown, who was the president of Black United Youth (BUY) in Arkansas in the late 1960s. Although all of the Nine experienced …

Van Buren Schools, Desegregation of

The desegregation of Van Buren (Crawford County) schools produced several national headlines and is one of Arkansas’s most intriguing episodes of compliance with—and defiance against—the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas school desegregation decision. In 1954, the Van Buren School District had 2,634 white students and eighty-seven African-American students. Black students attended a segregated elementary school, and after graduation they were bussed over the Arkansas River to the segregated Lincoln High School of Fort Smith (Sebastian County). After Brown, with assistance from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), nineteen parents sued for the entry of twenty-four black students into Van Buren’s white high school, the first case of its kind …

Wair, Thelma Jean Mothershed

Thelma Jean Mothershed Wair made history as a member of the Little Rock Nine, the African-American students involved in the desegregation of Little Rock Central High School in 1957. The world watched as they braved constant intimidation and threats from those who opposed desegregation of the formerly all-white high school. Mothershed was a junior when she entered Central. Despite the fact that she had a cardiac condition since birth, she had a near perfect record for attendance. Thelma Mothershed was born on November 29, 1940, in Bloomberg, Texas, to Arlevis Leander Mothershed and Hosanna Claire Moore Mothershed. Her father was a psychiatric aide at the Veterans Hospital, and her mother was a homemaker. She has three sisters and two brothers. …

Westside School Shooting

In the early afternoon of March 24, 1998, two students from Westside Middle School, located approximately two miles west of Jonesboro (Craighead County), conducted an armed ambush on teachers and students, which resulted in five dead and ten others injured. The shooters, Andrew Golden and Mitchell Johnson, were arrested and prosecuted for the crime. The incident was one of two school shootings in Arkansas and one of several school shootings across the nation that adjusted school administrators’ and law enforcement officers’ concepts on school security and response plans to violent incidents at schools. The students and teachers had returned from spring break the day before the shooting. Fifth period was just starting at 12:35 p.m. when a fire alarm caused …

Women’s Emergency Committee to Open Our Schools (WEC)

The Women’s Emergency Committee to Open Our Schools (WEC) was formed on September 12, 1958, to combat the governor’s closing of Little Rock (Pulaski County) high schools. The first meeting of the organization was held on September 16. During the summer after the 1957 desegregation crisis at Central High School in Little Rock, Governor Orval Faubus invoked a recently passed state law and closed the schools to prevent further desegregation. The WEC became the first organization to publicly support reopening the schools under the district’s desegregation plan. It remained active until 1963. Forty-eight women met in September 1958 in the antebellum home of Adolphine Fletcher Terry, the widow of U.S. Congressman David D. Terry and a local activist for libraries, …

Wood v. Strickland

Wood v. Strickland is the title of a U.S. Supreme Court decision that grew out of a local dispute over a teenage prank perpetrated by three high school students of the Mena Special School District. This case has attained an importance far beyond its origins, helping to define the constitutional rights of public school students and the parameters under which public officials may be sued for monetary damages in federal court. On February 18, 1972, three students—Virginia Crain, Peggy Strickland, and Jo Wall—at Mena (Polk County) confessed to spiking the punch at an extracurricular function with twenty-four ounces of a flavored malt liquor beverage. Principal Duddy Waller suspended the three students for a week. The same day, meeting in a …