Page 3 of 4
Later that day, at 4 p.m., around 200 black and white marchers made up of SNCC volunteers and college and high school students arrived at the Capitol singing "We Shall Overcome." They waved placards reading, "Is This America or Russia?", "We Didn't Have Enough Blood in '57?" and "Alabama Sunday, Arkansas Today."
The Capitol doors were locked to prevent the students gaining entry. After singing more songs the marchers knelt in the rain at the foot of the Capitol steps and prayed. At 4:15 p.m., with the marchers still kneeling in prayer, around 30 state troopers walked up the Capitol steps in front of them and stood defiantly in the doorway. A handful of people, mostly FBI agents and newsmen, looked on. After 10 minutes, the state troopers left. Five minutes later, the students left too, vowing to return again the following day.
The next day at 1 p.m., 15 students arrived in cars. Jim Jones, Arkansas SNCC project director; Rev. Ben Grinage, Pine Bluff SNCC project director, and Anthony Hines, a Philander Smith student, led the group double file through the south entrance and down the stairway to the Capitol Club.
Guard Jack Morgan told them they could not enter without membership cards. Jones, Grinage and Hines debated with Morgan for 15 minutes, demanding to know under what law he was forbidding them entry. Tiring of the conversation, Morgan told them, "You'd better shut up. You've talked enough." He then shouted inside the cafeteria, "Is there anybody in there?" Secretary of State Bryant emerged from inside. Bryant insisted, "I must have the hall cleared," and signaled the police into action.
State Police Capt. R.E. Brown mobilized a number of his men outside the doorway of the cafeteria and ordered them to advance. The state police charged the students, jabbing at them with their riot sticks. Those at the front of the line were almost instantly knocked off their feet and those behind them fell in a domino effect. The police continued to advance, prodding, shoving and kicking the students as they went.
Bystanders at the back of the group also began to attack the demonstrators. One hurled a bottle of mustard gas at them. The volatile and highly corrosive liquid, used as a chemical weapon in World War I, quickly evaporated into choking and nauseating fumes. Everyone sought to escape as quickly as possible. White SNCC volunteer Howard Himmelbaum had mustard gas thrown directly on his back and was hospitalized. In a twist of fate, Himmelbaum later in life returned to the state and became office manager for Gov. Mike Beebe, working just a few feet away from where he had previously been attacked.
On Saturday, March 20, a group of Little Rock's black and white ministers met to discuss what action they should take over the ongoing demonstrations at the Capitol. They learned that there was going to be a policy change and that in the future demonstrators would be arrested rather than attacked. Though encouraged by the news, the ministers still decided to protest the continuing segregation at the Capitol and the police brutality against demonstrators. They planned to seek a meeting with Gov. Orval Faubus on Monday and debated whether or not they too should try to test Capitol Club facilities.
The escalating violence and the threat of an interracial protest from city ministers led to a further change of heart and policy. On Sunday, March 21, the day that national attention was focused on the beginning of another civil rights march in Selma, it was announced that the Capitol Club would close temporarily.
Where is the 2013 Ballot???
What Orval Faubus did in 1957 was not a governor gone all mavericky. He was…
This is what we've come to: Fighting among ourselves over points in an obituary.
A&E Feature / To-Do List / In Brief / Movie Reviews / Music Reviews / Theater Reviews / A&E News / Art Notes / Graham Gordy / Books / Media / Dining Reviews / Dining Guide / What's Cookin' / Calendar / The Televisionist / Movie Listings / Gallery Listings