Little Rock Crisis Panel Chafes, Inspires Grown-Up Arkansas Child: Panel Was Brilliant Analysis of Crisis' Role in Civil Rights Movement

Article excerpt

Growing up in a small town in Arkansas in the '50s and '60s, the Arkansas Gazette was one of the few institutions that earned any credit for our poor state.

When I was five, that paper and the national news were full of images of ugly people screaming at teenagers who wanted to go to school. I grew up thinking that Orval Faubus, the governor who stood in their wag was wrong, and the newspaper, the Gazette, that called him out was right. So it was more than interesting to sit in a meeting room at the Little Rock Convention Center, looking at the bridge the 101st Airborne division crossed to occupy Little Rock, to hear alternate accounts. It was disturbing and provoking.

I live in Kentucky now but spent my early adult years in Little Rock, where the fallout from the Central High integration struggle was evident everywhere. Housing patterns, school policies, political alliances, friendships, careers were all forever changed by what was universally known as the school desegregation crisis. Faubus was governor for a long time, presiding over political corruption so pervasive few tried to deny it. The 1965 Voting Rights Act signaled the end of his political career. With it, blacks could vote in Arkansas and, as with everyone else, their memories of '57 were still fresh. Faubus lost and despite several attempts never regained the governor's mansion.

I didn't realize how hard it would be to sit in the audience as people discussed my past, the events that shaped my ideas about public life.

As an editorial writer, I'm schooled to listen carefully, to question my own preconceptions, to look below the surface. I did my best to give these alternate stories a fair hearing. Dr. Elizabeth Jacoway didn't have much trouble convincing me that Harry Ashmore, the editor of the Gazette who won a Pulitzer Prize for his editorials on the crisis, had a big ego, liked to drink, and easily charmed the national journalists who came to town. …