School Segregation and Desegregation

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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, …

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 …

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. …

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 …

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 …

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 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. …

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 …

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 …

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 …

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. …

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, …