n On the north side of the state Capitol, sculptures of the Little Rock Nine stride forward into history. There's no such memorial for the Hoxie 21, but surviving members hope to bring it about.
Representatives of a group called the Hill Foundation have taken the first steps toward erecting a Hoxie 21 monument on the Capitol grounds. Fayth Hill Washington of West Memphis, a member of the 21 and co-founder of the foundation, said she'd "gotten the go-ahead" from Secretary of State Mark Martin and Gov. Mike Beebe to proceed, and that Martin had encouraged her to begin raising funds, advice she plans to follow.
But there'll be no Hoxie monument at the Capitol anytime soon, and there's been no formal approval of the project as yet. The secretary of state is the custodian of the Capitol grounds, but neither he nor the governor can authorize a new monument. That is the job of the Capitol Arts and Grounds Commission, whose members are appointed by elected officials — including the governor and the secretary of state — and by professional associations of architects and landscape architects. A spokesman said that Secretary of State Martin had advised Hill that raising private money was essential for projects such as this. Hill said that about $100,000 was needed.
The Hoxie schools were integrated in the summer and fall of 1955, two years before Little Rock Central High. A couple of Arkansas school districts – Charleston and Fayetteville – had integrated quietly and peacefully in 1954. The Encyclopedia of Arkansas says, "Hoxie's attempt was the first to be met with active resistance." In the end, the resistance was overcome with the help of the federal courts, as at Central High.
Sixteen of the black students who integrated the Hoxie schools are still living, Washington said. Ethel Tompkins is the only one who graduated at Hoxie. She's now back there, and a member of the Hill Foundation Board of Directors. Washington and her brother were among the 21, but their family moved to Indiana in 1958, so they didn't graduate at Hoxie. (Actually, 25 black students entered the formerly all-white Hoxie schools in '55, according to the foundation, but some of them left fairly quickly. Supporters of the monument decided that 21 was the appropriate number for memorial.)
Tompkins was in the seventh grade in 1955. She graduated from Hoxie High School in 1961, attended Shorter College in North Little Rock for a year, then joined the Navy so that she could use the GI Bill of Rights to complete her education. She did just that, earning a degree in computer science in Southern California, where she'd been stationed with the Navy, and worked in that area until returning to Hoxie in 1990 to take care of her parents.
Hoxie was a nice place to live in the 1950s, and still is, Tompkins said. Black kids and white kids in her neighborhood played together and visited in each others' homes. "The overall community feeling hasn't changed," she said. "Everyone's treated the same, everyone's welcome."
The Hoxie School Board had voluntarily decided to integrate the schools. There were "a few" who fought integration, Tompkins said, "but 90 percent of the population didn't support their views." The difference of opinion was sufficient, however, to catch the eye of the national news media, although the coverage was nothing like that at Central High two years later. Gov. Orval Faubus let the Hoxie integration proceed without taking sides; he called out the National Guard to block integration at Central.
The Hoxie experience had been widely forgotten until 2003, when a University of Memphis professor, Dr. David Appleby, made a documentary film about it. The movie was shown on PBS and widely praised.
"I think he did an excellent job," Tompkins said. "But a 59-minute documentary can't go into detail."
Hoxie deserves more, she said. "Our integration was so much different than the others. Even here in Lawrence County, where I do presentations, I find a lot of people who grew up here who don't know about it. We want to let the world know we belong in the history books too."
John and Kathy Deering of Little Rock have done a sketch for the proposed monument, Washington said. Deering designed the Little Rock Nine monument and other monuments on the Capitol grounds. Washington plans to formally unveil the sketch at a 56th anniversary of Hoxie integration, the ceremony to be held July 23 at the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center in Little Rock.
No matter how deserving the Hoxie 21, another monument on the Capitol grounds will not go unopposed. Some people think the grounds are already crowded with monuments, and another one – to firefighters – has been approved, though not yet erected, apparently because of insufficient funds. A few years ago, a group wanted to put an anti-abortion monument at the Capitol. That effort failed. The Capitol Arts and Grounds Commission was created by the legislature some years back in order to get tighter regulation of structures on the Capitol grounds, and to relieve the secretary of state of the responsibility for deciding such matters unilaterally.
The public has spoken. Get over it!
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