School Segregation and Desegregation

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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 …

Six Pioneers

The Six Pioneers were the first six African American students to attend the University of Arkansas School of Law: Silas Hunt, Jackie Shropshire, George Haley, Christopher Mercer, Wiley Branton, and George Howard Jr. Making the school the first institution of higher education in the South to desegregate voluntarily, they attended from 1948 to 1951, and five of the six graduated. Arkansas Industrial University (which would later become the University of Arkansas) opened in Fayetteville (Washington County) in January 1872, and at least one African American student arrived on campus to take classes at that time. While James McGahee likely received private tutoring rather than participating as a regular student, his presence on campus made the institution one of the earliest …

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. …