Favorite

Obituaries miss the real Faubus 

A generation ago, when Orval Faubus sprang full-blown into the national consciousness as the symbolic leader of massive resistance against desegregation of the public schools, he was condemned as a racist by the mainstream media. Most of the obituaries inspired by his passing allowed the verdict to stand.

This was perhaps inevitable in light of the prevailing misconception of the cause and effect of the constitutional crisis Mr. Faubus precipitated, and his lifelong effort to revise the history in which he played a leading role. But the result is to obscure the most important fact about his spectacular career — that he was not a racist, and only in rhetoric, as opposed to practice, could he be rated a populist.

Unlike his segregationist contemporaries in the Deep South, Orval never embraced the doctrine of white supremacy. His steadfast denial that he was motivated by racial bigotry also denied him the absolution accorded those, like George Wallace of Alabama, who conceded that they had been on the wrong side of the central moral issue that precipitated the civil rights era.

Orval went to his grave insisting that he had been fully justified in the actions that subjected him to the political weight, and ultimately the armed might, of the central government. But, if he could plausibly deny that personal opposition to racial integration had any bearing on the course he followed, he accepted the rest of the bill of goods concocted by the segregationist Citizens Councils.

Council leaders in the Deep South had resurrected the “nullification” doctrine espoused by John C. Calhoun in defense of slavery, contending that the states had a sovereign right to reject any action by the federal government they deemed to constitute a threat to their domestic well-being.

The hollow reed the council strategists provided to support Mr. Faubus’ defiance of the federal courts was the purported right of a governor to “interpose” his police power to preserve law and order if federal intervention posed a threat of mob violence. But this clearly was not the case at Little Rock, where a voluntary desegregation plan had the support of all the responsible local authorities.

The only mob action that ever materialized consisted of the pushing and shoving of a few hundred white protesters at the school gates. In two years of recurrent confrontation between the governor and federal authorities no one, black or white, suffered injuries serious enough to require hospitalization.

Little Rock, then, was not, as generally perceived, the site of an incipient race riot, but of a political maneuver in which Mr. Faubus played all the cards in the Citizens Council deck, only to have them trumped by unanimous decisions by the Supreme Court that knocked down the legal ploys devised by council strategists.

When the governor closed Little Rock’s high schools and attempted to divert their resources to a segregated, purportedly private academy, the local establishment rallied against him. His candidates were defeated in School Board elections that produced a fusion of the country club set — the “Cadillace brigade,” Orval called it — with the increasing bloc of newly enfranchised black voters. The coalition spread to the lesser cities of the state and finally overwhelmed the rural populists after they had provided Mr. Faubus with eight more years in the governor’s office.

Despite the rhetorical alarums and excursions that made headlines around the world, desegregation per se was no longer a compelling issue in Arkansas, and Orval did not need an overt appeal to race prejudice to rally his followers. His wily hillbilly persona gave credence to his appeal to the reflexive resentment of “meddling outsiders” inherent in the legacy from the lost civil war.

The engaging raconteur from Greasy Creek portrayed himself as the victim of a conspiracy by Yankees in league with the powers in Washington. He had been the most liberal governor in the South, he acknowledged, but the left-wingers had turned on him when he “offended the great federal government by resisting the effort to cram integration down our throats.”

Resentment of the disadvantaged against those more fortunately situated is also basic to a populist appeal, pitting country folk against what they called in Arkansas the “high-collared” city crowd. Since opposition to Mr. Faubus was primarily urban, it was plausible for him to include among the conspirators the state’s business and financial leaders. Following the Citizens Council line, he identified these certified conservatives as fellow travelers with Marxist ideologues he charged with fomenting his outside opposition.

But if his rhetoric and confrontational style irritated proper Arkansans, it did nothing to inhibit his working relationship with the moneyed interests who dominated the state government. The influence of those who sought its patronage, or immunity from its regulatory processes, flourished during his 12 years in the statehouse.
Some of the obituarists treated seriously Orval’s insistence that he displayed redeeming progressive tendencies during his last three terms. But this was primarily the result of his going along with the orderly desegregation of public and private facilities that followed the election of Presidents Kennedy and Johnson.

The realignment of the Democratic Party that resulted from the accommodation of blacks made way for the procession of moderate Arkansas governors who followed Mr. Faubus, and successfully maneuvered with the interests to improve the lot of the disadvantaged of both races. Three of these are now leading figures in the Washington establishment condemned by a populist surge at the polls that adapted Mr. Faubus’ campaign technique for a new assault on the central government. Demonization of the political opposition is again the order of the day, with President Clinton the primary target.

But this time the attack comes from the right and is led by ideologues who have turned Faubus-style populism on its head. The scapegoats in this round are the poor and the dispossessed; the purported victims of big government are discomfited members of the middle class; and the intended beneficiaries are those who already enjoy most of the benefits of the market economy. We can only speculate on what old Orval, had he indulged in an unaccustomed outburst of candor, would have made of that.

Harry S. Ashmore was the executive editor of the old Arkansas Gazette and he and the newspaper won Pulitzer Prizes for their coverage of the crisis at Central High and opposition to Gov. Faubus. This article first appeared in the Washington Times.
Favorite

Sign up for the Daily Update email

Speaking of Orval Faubus

  • Inspired by LBJ

    February 1, 2018
    Ordinarily, you turned to Lyndon B. Johnson to dislocate a congressman's elbow and to get things done, not for oratory and inspiration. For that, you had Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy. /more/
  • Farkleberries are back

    December 6, 2017
    Farkleberry bushes have been replanted on the grounds of the Clinton Library, a bit of vegetation that became associated with Gov. Orval Faubus thanks to cartoonist George Fisher. /more/
  • Annals of the uppity: Satchmo, Faubus, Kaepernick and 60 years of 'progress'

    September 27, 2017
    The New Yorker's Jelani Cobb comments on NFL protests and the history of offense taken when African-Americans don't take the place assigned to them by whites and white leaders. Of course there's an Arkansas example and it ties neatly to our continuing examination of the progress made in Arkansas since the 1957 school crisis. /more/
  • When Dick Gregory was jailed in Pine Bluff for attempting to eat in a segregated restaurant

    September 2, 2017
    Dick Gregory, who recently died at the age of 84, was a pioneering African-American satirist. Like many black entertainers in the 1960s, he used his celebrity to aid the cause of civil rights by drawing attention to the absurdities of segregation and racial discrimination. In 1964 Gregory was thrown into the Jefferson County Jail in Pine Bluff for trying to eat in the whites-only section of a truck stop cafe. /more/
  • Dale Bumpers stories: From Charleston to the seats of power

    January 3, 2016
    Oh the stories Dale Bumpers could tell. Ernest Dumas, who did an 11-hour interview with the late former governor and senator for a University of Arkansas oral history project, excerpts some of that interview here. /more/
  • Mike Huckabee's zenith and nadir: 1997 speech and 2015 demagoguery

    September 15, 2015
    Once, Mike Huckabee upheld the U.S. Supreme Court as the law of the land, saying human rights trumped even religious objections. But that was in 1997, before Kim Davis came along. Ernest Dumas explains. /more/
  • Rockefeller the reformer

    May 7, 2015
    Winthrop Rockefeller introduced a moderate, sometimes progressive brand of Republican politics in Arkansas. /more/
  • Huckabee revives Faubus' idea of nullification UPDATE

    January 22, 2015
    Mike Huckabee's theory that the state could nullify a Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage leads to a discussion of state-by-state differences on a range of issues and, in theory, a dissolution of the Union. /more/
  • Prudent pay raises for elected officials needed

    January 15, 2015
    Across the generations, the low pay of Arkansas's elected officials — a direct result of an ingrained distrust and cynicism regarding political elites — has served the state poorly by inhibiting the modernization of state government. The commission now at work on determining state officials' pay has a great opportunity to remedy that flaw, but only if its members show care in their actions. /more/
  • Bill Carter talks Kennedy and Arkansas

    October 3, 2013
    The latest in our video series collaboration with Greg Spradlin and Camp Friday Films is an interview with Bill Carter, the Rector native who's semi-famous for being witness to a hell of a lot of history. Carter talks about his involvement in organizing John F. Kennedy's visit to Heber Springs 50 years ago today. /more/
  • More »

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Readers also liked…

  • Seven

    The controversy over the Ten Commandments monument on the Capitol lawn just won't go away.
    • Feb 9, 2017
  • Banned in 2018

    Here's some arcana reeking of 2017 that I'm banning from consideration, attention, even out-loud mention in 2018. I'm unfriending all this 2017-reminding shit. It's dead to me in 2018.
    • Jan 11, 2018

Latest in Guest Writer

  • Don't arm teachers

    It's been roughly five months since 14 high school students and three staff members were shot and killed in their school in Parkland, Fla.
    • Jul 12, 2018
  • The cult of Trump

    Nearly 40 years ago our country was introduced to two major phenomena centering around cults: namely, the Moonies and the Shiite Muslims. There were others, as well, and I soon became fascinated with the dynamics of cults and cult leaders (both religious and secular) in general — leading me to read a number of books and articles, some even written by those who had been deprogrammed after spending time in a cult.
    • Jun 21, 2018
  • Lights out

    I was taught to turn lights out when I was not using them. We pay extra for electricity to finance energy-saving programs that involve devices that turn lights out when not in use. Yet, the city of Little Rock recently sent an email advising citizens to combat crime by leaving outside lighting on all night. That is backward, ineffectual, potentially counterproductive and environmentally irresponsible advice.
    • Jun 21, 2018
  • More »

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: Let's vote

    • And while we're at it lets get a vouchers for private schools initiative on the…

    • on July 14, 2018
  • Re: Punishing the poor

    • Then maybe the congress will give up on the unsustainable socialized medical insurance fiasco that…

    • on July 14, 2018
 

© 2018 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation