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Little Rock

Little Rock: Race and Resistance at Central High School

Karen Anderson
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 344
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  • Book Info
    Little Rock
    Book Description:

    The desegregation crisis inLittle Rockis a landmark of American history: on September 4, 1957, after the Supreme Court struck down racial segregation in public schools, Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus called up the National Guard to surround Little Rock Central High School, preventing black students from going in. On September 25, 1957, nine black students, escorted by federal troops, gained entrance. With grace and depth,Little Rockprovides fresh perspectives on the individuals, especially the activists and policymakers, involved in these dramatic events. Looking at a wide variety of evidence and sources, Karen Anderson examines American racial politics in relation to changes in youth culture, sexuality, gender relations, and economics, and she locates the conflicts of Little Rock within the larger political and historical context.

    Anderson considers how white groups at the time, including middle class women and the working class, shaped American race and class relations. She documents white women's political mobilizations and, exploring political resentments, sexual fears, and religious affiliations, illuminates the reasons behind segregationists' missteps and blunders. Anderson explains how the business elite in Little Rock retained power in the face of opposition, and identifies the moral failures of business leaders and moderates who sought the appearance of federal compliance rather than actual racial justice, leaving behind a legacy of white flight, poor urban schools, and institutional racism.

    Probing the conflicts of school desegregation in the mid-century South,Little Rockcasts new light on connections between social inequality and the culture wars of modern America.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3214-9
    Subjects: History, Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. INTRODUCTION Not Here, Not Now, Not Us
    (pp. 1-18)

    On the morning of September 4, 1957, 16-year-old Elizabeth Eckford awoke early, so keyed up about her first day at Little Rock’s Central High School that she could hardly wait to be up. As she ironed the black and white dress she had made for the occasion, her brother turned on the television. A local newscast related that large crowds were gathering at the previously all-white school to prevent the entry of Elizabeth and eight other African American students scheduled to start school that day. Her mother, anxious about her daughter’s safety, yelled from the kitchen for them to “Turn...

  6. CHAPTER ONE Mapping Change: Little Rock Forges a Desegregation Plan
    (pp. 19-54)

    In 1953, the Little Rock School Board hired Virgil Blossom, then director of schools in Fayetteville, as its new superintendent, a decision that would profoundly shape the future direction of school politics in Little Rock. A former football player, the tall and burly Blossom was physically imposing. Willful, visionary, and ambitious, the school administrator could project a daunting political presence. A former student at Fayetteville High School, who had been sent to Blossom’s office after one too many infractions, reported this encounter with his school’s principal: “Mr. Blossom just talked to me, but as he talked I started getting smaller...

  7. CHAPTER TWO “Occupied Arkansas”: Class, Gender, and the Politics of Resistance
    (pp. 55-93)

    In August 1957, as the city of Little Rock prepared to desegregate its schools by admitting a few African American students to previously all-white Central High School, its citizens became increasingly anxious. Fearful that desegregation would involve violence and unwilling to have her daughter attend school with black students, Carol Thomason called Little Rock School Superintendent Virgil Blossom to request that her daughter Louise be allowed to transfer. He refused her request. Thomason, described by another segregationist as “a sweet little thing but a very stern person in the things she believes,” called him back repeatedly. He did not return...

  8. CHAPTER THREE Uncivil Disobedience: The Politics of Race and Resistance at Central High School, 1957–1958
    (pp. 94-126)

    In mid-December 1957, Minnijean Brown cracked under the pressure of the daily harassment she was experiencing at Central High School. In the cafeteria, which was often the site of minor provocations engineered by a cabal of racist white students, she had her way blocked by a chair. Believing that the incident had been intentionally provocative, Minnijean took her tray and dumped its contents, including a bowl of chili, on two boys sitting in the vicinity. Confused, she missed the student who had deliberately moved the chair to block her path. She “had been provoked previously in the same location” and...

  9. [Illustrations]
    (pp. 127-136)
  10. CHAPTER FOUR The Politics of School Closure: Massive Resistance Put to the Test, 1958–1959
    (pp. 137-165)

    The graduation of Ernest Green in May 1958 meant not a resolution to the crisis over desegregation in Little Rock, but rather the end of its first stage. Indeed, citizens were still haunted by the specter of federal troops in their midst and the open racial conflict and disorder in schools that had characterized the first year of desegregation. Few whites in Little Rock were committed even to the token efforts at integration achieved in the 1957–1958 academic year and most sought ways to evade the spirit and intent of federal court decisions while successfully claiming compliance. The result...

  11. CHAPTER FIVE The Politics of Fear and Gridlock
    (pp. 166-189)

    William Hadley, Jr., who moderated the first Women’s Emergency Committee television program, started losing business at his newly established public relations and advertising firm soon after the broadcast of the program. He continued to lose accounts after he made statements in support of racial change in private business meetings. His participation in interracial groups, his early and consistent support for open schools under the minimal desegregation provided by the Blossom Plan, and his profession and prominence in the community made him an easy target for segregationists and moderates anxious to police the white political community. Eventually, he and his family...

  12. CHAPTER SIX Politics as Usual: Reviving the Politics of Tokenism
    (pp. 190-227)

    For Little Rock’s citizens, the summer of 1959 was an anxious one. In June, the Ku Klux Klan received incorporation papers from the state of Arkansas, signaling the beginning of public recruitment efforts in the state. The Little Rock School Board’s statement later that month that it would open the city’s public high schools in the fall relieved parents worried about their children’s future. At the same time, some segregationists reacted with anger and voiced their determination to prevent any form of desegregation in the schools. Many citizens worried about the social discord and potential for violence that the school...

  13. CONCLUSIONS Little Rock and the Legacies of Brown v. Board of Education
    (pp. 228-244)

    Decades after the admission of African American students to Central High, black students and teachers who had been involved in the crisis over desegregation expressed disaffection with the poor quality of education African American children still received in Little Rock and the nation. In August 1987, Daisy Bates wrote to Elizabeth Huckaby that she was “truly unhappy about the condition of the Little Rock schools.” She expressed her surprise and disappointment that school officials had yet to commit to “the quality of education for all children.” In a 1987 interview Elizabeth Eckford wondered “What good does it do to desegregate...

  14. Abbreviations
    (pp. 245-246)
  15. Notes
    (pp. 247-314)
  16. Index
    (pp. 315-330)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 331-332)