Autumn temps are perfect for outdoor activities
In her book, “Turn Away Thy Son,” Elizabeth Jacoway has written a curious, contrarian history of the Little Rock Central integration crisis that is, at times, downright contrary.
Jacoway has put a massive amount of research into this book, and her work is often impressive when she sticks to writing a straightforward account of the crisis, but when she tries to rewrite some of that history, she impeaches some of her good work.
She goes astray, in my view, when she tries to absolve Governor Orval Faubus of his role in making Little Rock a derogatory word around the world. Sometimes, in fact, it is hard to tell if she is trying to glorify Faubus or whitewash him, or both.
This effort is not helped by the animosity she shows toward some of the people who either criticized Faubus, opposed him in his efforts to delay integration, worked in favor of limited integration of Little Rock Central, or just made life difficult for him. Usually she is able to find ulterior motives for most of these people.
Jacoway comes down hard on school superintendent Virgil Blossom (her uncle), congressman Brooks Hays, former governor Sid McMath, and Arkansas Gazette editor Harry Ashmore, as well as most of the federal officials involved, from the judges to officials in attorney general Herbert Brownell's office and President Eisenhower.
Ashmore is her real bete noire in this story. She says Ashmore almost single-handedly was responsible for propagating the theory that Faubus, for political reasons, called out the National Guard to prevent integration at Central and thus set up a showdown with the federal government.
“With his immense powers of persuasion,” she writes, “his carefully nurtured prestige within his profession, his strategic placement as an expert at the heart of the action, and his preconceived theories about the sources of resistance to desegregation, Harry Ashmore fashioned over the next few months an interpretation of events in the unfolding ‘Little Rock Crisis' that traveled around the globe, and that stood, practically untouched, for the next fifty years.”
There were a lot of qualified people around Little Rock at the time that came up with that same interpretation and did not need Ashmore's arguments to reach that conclusion.
However, even if we concede that Ashmore played a major role in fostering that view of Faubus, the real question is, was he correct? Did Faubus really help explode the crisis for political reasons? A lot of people who had been fairly close to Faubus or to the events in Little Rock held that opinion
Winthrop Rockefeller, the future governor who had been appointed by Faubus as chairman of the Arkansas Industrial Development Commission, thought so. So did former governor McMath, who brought Faubus into politics. So did Ashmore, who helped Faubus win the governorship to begin with. So did Henry Woods, a future federal judge who helped engineer the speech that Ashmore wrote for Faubus that helped him beat Governor Francis Cherry. So did Jim Johnson, the firebrand segregationist who earlier ran against Faubus for governor but praised him for calling out the Guard. So did Amis Guthridge, an attorney and leader for the segregationist Capital Citizens' Council. So did John Robert Starr, who was working then for the Associated Press and who later became somewhat of a confidant of Faubus. So did Adolphine Terry, the matriarch who helped form the Women's Emergency Committee to Save our Schools, and did help save the schools. So did Ray Moseley, who was frequently the lead reporter for the Gazette on the story and later worked for the Chicago Tribune and United Press International and was a bureau manager in Cairo, Rome, Moscow and Brussels. So did Roy Reed, a reporter for the Gazette at the time (and a friend of mine), who later was a reporter for the New York Times and a university professor who wrote a brilliant biography of Faubus and conducted 77 formal interviews of Faubus in the 1980s and 1990s. For that matter, so did I.