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The 1957-58 school year gets the media attention, but the admittance of black students to Central High in the fall of 1957, followed by the graduation of one of them in the spring of 1958, didn't end the resistance to integration of Little Rock schools, nor the misadventures of their students. The next school year, 1958-59, all four public high schools in town were closed, to keep black and white students apart. Gov. Orval E. Faubus and the state legislature developed the strategy. Little Rock voters approved it.
With the three white high schools (Central, Hall and Metropolitan Technical) and the one black high school (Horace Mann) out of the education business, their would-have-been students scattered. Some attended private schools, including a segregationist academy in Little Rock founded specifically for that purpose. Some went to public schools in the Pulaski County district or in nearby towns. Some had enough credits to enter college early. Some went to live with relatives while they attended school in other cities and states. Some, especially at Mann and Technical, ended their formal education, entering the labor force or the Army.
Sandra Hubbard was part of what she calls “The Lost Year” and has made a documentary by that name. In it, she interviews many of the students whose educations, and lives, were disrupted. Sondra Gordy, a history professor at the University of Central Arkansas, is writing a book on the Lost Year and was a co-producer of the video.
Hubbard would have been a junior at Hall. Instead, she went to Mabelvale High, where, she says, “They hated kids from Little Rock.” (Now a part of Little Rock, Mabelvale was a separate community in those days and its schools were in the Pulaski County District.)
“It was a horrible time in our city,” Hubbard says. “Ninety percent of the kids wanted the schools opened. It was the adults who wanted them closed.” And the schools were reopened for the 1959-60 school year, thanks to the courts and a new Little Rock School Board. Hubbard graduated from Hall with the students she'd started to school with.
Justice Robert L. Brown of the Arkansas Supreme Court was Bobby Brown in 1958, a Hall student forced to go elsewhere his senior year. He attended St. Stephen's, an Episcopal boarding school in Austin that was recommended by the Episcopal bishop of Texas to Brown's father, the Episcopal bishop of Arkansas.
It was a particular oddity of the Lost Year that while the high schools were closed, their football teams — unintegrated — played on. To come home from Texas and attend the Hall-Central game on Thanksgiving, complete with cheerleaders, was, Brown says, “surreal.”
Let's keep the record straight
This editorial appeared in The Tiger student newspaper of Little Rock Central High School in 1957.
Just for the sake of the record, let us remind our readers that less than 1% of the population of Little Rock was in the crowd of people gathered in front of CHS when school opened Monday morning, September 23. In addition to that, many of the people in the crowd were not citizens of Little Rock. There was at no time any significant disturbance in the classrooms of the high school. From over the country there were a few photographers and reporters apparently seeking for a juicy morsel in the tense situation.
Again it is the case of where a minority group controlled the actions and even the thoughts of the majority. Wouldn't it be better for parents, townsmen, and strangers to let the law take its course and seek a remedy of the situation in some other way?
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