Arkansas Moments is a special feature of UA Little Rock's Public Radio that explores the history of the civil rights movement in Arkansas with Dr. John A. Kirk, George W. Donaghey Distinguished Professor of History.
The Arkansas State Sovereignty Commission was created in February 1957 to “protect the sovereignty of Arkansas…from encroachment by the federal government.” The commission advanced the discredited notion that state laws could be used to nullify federal laws. Its primary purpose was to prevent school desegregation. The commission was modeled on other southern State Sovereignty Commissions that harassed pro-civil rights groups. Republican Winthrop Rockefeller condemned the commission as “dangerous” and deemed it a potential “Arkansas gestapo.” Even Gov.
In 1964, Arkansas voters approved a new state constitutional amendment that replaced the poll tax with a modern, permanent voter registration system. The same year, Amendment Twenty Four to the U.S. Constitution outlawed the use of the poll tax in federal elections. The poll tax had a long history in Arkansas that stretched back to 1893. Proponents of the poll tax claimed that it would decrease voter fraud. In practice, it only increased fraud in elections. It also had the effect of disenfranchising many African American and poor white voters.
The 1959 Arkansas General Assembly was the third in three years to pass a raft of pro-segregation measures. Act 236 allowed the parents of a student to directly petition the State Board of Education for a grant to cover the cost of sending their child to a segregated school in another school district or to a private school—essentially, a prototype school voucher system. The parents’ only burden of proof was to sign an affidavit stating that attending a segregated school would be better for their child than attending an integrated school.
The assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee, sent shock waves around the nation and around the world. A number of different constituencies in Arkansas looked to embrace King’s legacy. J. Bill Becker, present of the Arkansas AFL-CIO, explained that King quote “gave his life fighting for the rights of workers attempting to achieve dignity and justice on the job.
The assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee, sent shock waves around the nation and around the world. Religious leaders claimed King as a fellow minister. An interdenominational prayer service was held at Little Rock’s Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, sponsored by the Arkansas Council of Churches and the Ministerial Alliance of Greater Little Rock.
The assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee, sent shock waves around the nation and around the world. Little Rock Superintendent of Schools Floyd W. Parsons announced that all schools in the Little Rock School District could hold memorial services for King and screen his funeral on television. Pulaski County Superintendent of Schools Leroy Gatlin said the same. Deputy Superintendent of North Little Rock Schools George E. Miller said that it would be up to each school principal to decide. Rev.
The assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee, sent shock waves around the nation and around the world. Philander Smith College, Shorter College, and Little Rock University, all canceled classes on the day of King’s funeral, Tuesday, April 9. Arkansas Baptist College suspended classes in the morning and resumed at 1:30 p.m.; the University of Arkansas did the same, but resumed at 12:30 p.m.
Starting in 1957, three successive Arkansas General Assemblies passed a series of pro-segregation measures. In 1959, Act 14 made it illegal for a person to refuse to leave a place of business. Act 81 created a bus seat numbering system for intra state journeys in an attempt to preserve segregation by seat assignment. Act 115 forbade any member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People from holding a government position. Act 482 stated that blood donations should by labeled by race, and that any person receiving a transfusion should be told the donor’s race.
Starting in 1957, three successive Arkansas General Assemblies passed a series of pro-segregation laws. In 1958, Act 4 empowered the governor to shut down any integrated school district. Act 10 ordered all teachers to disclose any organizational memberships. Act 11 prevented any organizations from filing lawsuits in the area of public education. A number of other measures were aimed at specifically preventing the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People from practicing law in the state.
Starting in 1957, three successive Arkansas General Assemblies passed a series of pro-segregation measures. In 1957, Act 83 created a State Sovereignty Commission to harass civil rights groups. Future Republican governor Winthrop Rockefeller labeled it an “Arkansas gestapo.” Act 85 ordered all groups that received donations in the state to report them to the Sovereignty Commission, specifically targeting the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Act 84 made attendance at an integrated school non-compulsory.
Sixty years ago, the Freedom Rides placed pressure on local communities and the federal government to implement the court-ordered desegregation of bus terminal facilities. Little Rock’s first Freedom Riders, five members of the St. Louis branch of the Congress of Racial Equality, arrived on July 10 at the Mid-West Trailways bus station at Markham and Louisiana. They were arrested after arrival. Two days later they were released. The city feared hitting the headlines for racial unrest so soon after the events surrounding the desegregation of Central High School in September 1957.
Sixty years ago, five Freedom Riders from the St. Louis branch of the Congress of Racial Equality came to Little Rock. They were 30 year-old African American Rev. Benjamin Elton Cox, a native of Whiteville, Tennessee, and a minister at Pilgrim Congregational Church in High Point, North Carolina; 20 year-old Bliss Ann Malone, an African American public school teacher from St. Louis; 18 year-old Annie Lumpkin, an African American student from St.
Sixty years ago, the Freedom Rides ended segregation in southern bus terminals. The following year, the pro-segregation White Citizens’ Councils began the so-called “Reverse Freedom Rides.” They paid a one-way fare for black families to ride North. More of a publicity stunt than a serious enterprise, the Reverse Freedom Rides were embraced by Little Rock’s Capital Citizen’s Council. The Council funded more Reverse Freedom Rides than any other branch in the country, virtually bankrupting itself in the process.
In 1966, the Democratic nominee for governor was James D. Johnson, the former head of the Arkansas Association of White Citizens’ Councils that had been in the vanguard of opposition to school desegregation in the 1950s. From the outset, Johnson made it plain where he stood. He refused to shake hands with black voters and insisted that he “did not campaign in their community.” Johnson was defeated by Republican Winthrop Rockefeller, with black votes making up the margin of victory.
Winthrop Rockefeller was elected governor of Arkansas in 1966. His election victory was aided by the work of national civil rights organizations in the state including the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, as well as local organizations such as the Council on Community Affairs. Many of these efforts were in concert with the Arkansas Voter Project, the state arm of the regionwide Voter Education Project run by the Southern Regional Council in Atlanta under the directorship of Arkansan Wiley Branton.
Sidney Sanders McMath was elected governor of Arkansas in 1948. McMath was part of a regionwide movement led by former veterans in a so-called “G. I. Revolt” that pressed for better public health, education and welfare. Another central tenet was seeking to improve southern race relations. Even the normally skeptical Arkansas State Press newspaper, owned by the husband-and-wife team of L. C. and Daisy Bates, editorialized that “FOR THE FIRST TIME IN OUR LIVES we felt we were voting for SOMETHING.” President-elect Harry S.
In its 1944 Smith v. Allwright decision, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the use of all-white party primaries in the South that were a significant barrier to full black participation in the electoral process. Arkansas Democrats sought to oppose the ruling by initiating a complex “double primary” system that provided for city and statewide primaries that excluded blacks, and federal primaries at which blacks could vote, but only at segregated ballot boxes. When leading black Democrat Dr.
In February 1960, a student sit-in movement against segregated lunch counters spread across the South. A new civil rights organization, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, or “snick,” was formed. Little Rock’s first sit-ins came in March 1960 led by Philander Smith students. Hefty fines and substantial prison sentences initially ground the movement to a halt.
After the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the Arkansas State Capital cafeteria incorporated as a private members club to avoid desegregation. Members of the Arkansas Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, or “snick,” were beaten by police with billy clubs and tear gassed when they protested. The courts eventually ordered the cafeteria to desegregate.
In 1962, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, known as “snick,” sent white Ohioan Bill Hansen to Little Rock. By 1963, most of Little Rock’s downtown stores and public facilities had desegregated. Hansen was director of SNCC’s Arkansas Project that pursued voting rights and black community empowerment from bases in Pine Bluff, Gould, Helena, and Forrest City.
In her memoir Daisy Bates remembers the first day the Little Rock Nine attended classes at Central High: “Newscasters, broadcasting from the school grounds, reported that the children were being beaten and were running down the halls of the school, bloodstained.” You can read more from Bates’s memoir, and find other primary sources about the 1957 desegregation of Central High, and other landmark events in the civil rights movement, in my new book, The Civil Rights Movement: A Documenta
On September 24, 1957, Pres. Dwight D. Eisenhower issued an executive order: “The Secretary of Defense is authorized to use such of the armed forces of the United States as he may deem necessary” to ensure desegregation at Central High School.
On the night of Sunday, September 2, 1957, Arkansas governor Orval E. Faubus went on television and told citizens: “Units of the National Guard have been…mobilized… [to] restore the peace and order of the community.” His actions promulgated a constitutional crisis.
The civil rights movement produced some of the most iconic photographs of the twentieth century. Ira Wilmer Counts’ famous image of Elizabeth Eckford’s first day at Central High, being chased and howled at by a white mob, is one of them.
From March 15 through March 17, 1974, Little Rock hosted the second National Black Political Convention. The first convention was held in Gary, Indiana, in 1972. The 1974 convention was held at Robinson Auditorium and Central High School. The cochairs of the convention were Richard G. Hatcher, who had been elected as one of the first black mayors of a major American city in Gary in 1967, and black poet Amiri Baraka. The convention sought to find a way forward for the emerging divisions between elected black politicians and black grassroots activists.
Sixty years ago, on February 1, 1960, the first sit-ins took place in Greensboro, North Carolina, that launched a southern wide movement. From February to April 1960, over 70 communities experienced sit-ins. By the end of the year, over 70,000 students had participated in sit‐ins or in other forms of nonviolent direct action. The first sit-ins were held in Little Rock by Philander Smith College students on March 10, 1960, at the F. W. Woolworth’s store at 4th and Main Streets. Five students were arrested.
One hundred years ago, Francis Cecil Sumner, from Pine Bluff, Arkansas, became the first African American to receive a doctorate in psychology when he graduated from Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts. Sumner is widely regarded as the “Father of Black Psychology.” From 1928 until his death in 1954, Sumner was chair of the psychology department at Howard University in Washington, DC. The year Sumner died his student Kenneth B. Clark provided crucial psychological evidence in the US Supreme Court’s landmark Brown v. Board of Education school desegregation decision.
Sixty years ago, the third of three Arkansas General Assemblies in the space of three years passed a final battery of pro-segregation legislation. Fifty-six pro-segregation measures were introduced, thirty made it to the governor’s desk for his signature of approval, and sixteen were signed into law. Nine of the sixteen new laws sought to preserve school segregation. Act 151 allowed funds to follow a student who transferred from an integrated school to a segregated school within a school district.
Sixty years ago, the third of three Arkansas General Assemblies in the space of three years passed a final battery of pro-segregation legislation. Fifty-six pro-segregation measures were introduced, thirty made it to the governor’s desk for his signature of approval, and sixteen were signed into law. Nine of the sixteen new laws sought to preserve school segregation. Act 461 provided racially coded language as a basis to justify segregated school assignments.
Sixty years ago, the third of three Arkansas General Assemblies in the space of three years passed a final battery of pro-segregation legislation. Fifty-six pro-segregation measures were introduced, thirty made it to the governor’s desk for his signature of approval, and sixteen were signed into law. Act 81 created a bus seat numbering system that allowed intrastate bus drivers to seat passengers at their discretion based on the safety of the passengers, creating an even weight distribution, and ensuring the peace.