Little Rock 1957: The past isn't even past | Arkansas Blog

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Little Rock 1957: The past isn't even past

Posted By on Thu, Apr 6, 2017 at 7:41 AM

TWENTY YEARS AFTER: Would the current Arkansas governor fit in a Little Rock Central remembrance as happened in 1997? If so, what would he say about resisting a return of the school district to control by a school board that was majority black when he took it over.
  • TWENTY YEARS AFTER: Would the current Arkansas governor fit in a Little Rock Central remembrance as happened in 1997? If so, what would he say about resisting a return of the school district to control by a school board that was majority black when he took it over.

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Add another book to the reading list on the Little Rock school desegregation crisis of 1957, "Remember Little Rock," from the University of Massachusetts Press by Erin Krutko Devlin. It has great relevance today.

She draws from interviews, books, documentaries, news accounts and more to retell the Little Rock history through a lens that seems pertinent at this juncture in Little Rock public school history:

Devlin reveals how many white moderates proclaimed Little Rock a victory for civil rights and educational equality even as segregation persisted. At the same time, African American activists, students, and their families asserted their own stories in the ongoing fight for racial justice.

Devlin also demonstrates that public memory directly bears on law and policy. She argues that the triumphal narrative of civil rights has been used to stall school desegregation, support tokenism, and to roll back federal court oversight of school desegregation, voter registration, and efforts to promote diversity in public institutions. Remember Little Rock examines the chasm between the rhetoric of the "post— civil rights" era and the reality of enduring racial inequality."
Well, yes. Enduring racial inequality.

This coming fall is the 60th anniversary of the attempt to prevent black children from entering Central High School. Will Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who just this week put his foot down against returning control of the Little Rock School District to control of an elected school board (majority black when he took it over), swing wide the door of Central in symbolic welcome to the Little Rock Nine (now eight)?

It will be interesting to hear him explain how the Nine's cause is advanced by creation of charter schools that drain better students from Little Rock, creating a residual school district population that is mostly black and poor and widely used by his political party as a symbol of all that is wrong with public education. Will he boast about how his education commissioner opposed legislation that tried to provide equal treatment for real public schools and charter schools? Will he talk of his advocacy of giving public money to people to flee to private schools, some of them created specifically to avoid black children?

There are many more current events to consider in the context of 1957. We could move along to voter suppression measures by the controlling Republican Party. Also, the Republican Party's defeat of Sen. Joyce Elliott's effort to measure racial impact of criminal law changes.

And the governor will say .......?

"Thanks to my effort, we no longer celebrate Martin Luther King on the same day with Robert E. Lee." True. But be sure to not forget to say that we DO still celebrate Lee with a special day of commemoration and Asa's legislation requires teaching about him in public schools in equal measure with King.

That's equality, 2017 Arkansas-style. It includes the governor asking for $600 million in taxes from the majority black voters of the Little Rock School District without elected representation.

The fall could be interesting.  Might Asa= bring Donald Trump down for a ceremony like the day in 1997 when Bill Clinton and Mike Huckabee welcomed the Nine back to Central? It might not be a similarly happy occasion.

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