Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

Through a Heroine's Eyes: Elizabeth Huckaby and the "Lost Year"

Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

Through a Heroine's Eyes: Elizabeth Huckaby and the "Lost Year"

Article excerpt

ELIZABETH HUCKABY, VICE PRINCIPAL FOR GIRLS at Little Rock Central High School, spent most of the day on Tuesday, May 27, 1958, preparing for that evening's graduation ceremony. Though she had taught at the school since 1930, she had never worried more about commencement. Her diary entry for that day said, "Tenseness all day about Commencement."1 Ernest Green, the only senior among the Little Rock Nine, was to receive his diploma that evening. He and his eight black classmates had desegregated Little Rock Central High School eight months earlier.2 In midafternoon, Huckaby attended a faculty meeting concerning final grades and then left for Quigley Stadium's football field to help work on an elaborate system of labeling every chair with the name of a graduate. The plan included alternating rows for boys and girls in alphabetical order to visually build an enormous "V" out of the boys' blue caps and gowns and the girls' white caps and gowns. The students had already rehearsed their parts and cleaned out their lockers, and most were at home with family and friends preparing for the ceremony, so rich with the traditions of Central High. Huckaby had a plan to guard against minor disruptions during the ceremony. She and the school nurse, Miss Marian Carpenter, were to sit in chairs on the oval track at eye level with students. From there, they could identify any senior by row and seat assignment should one choose, as rumored, to toss an egg at Ernest Green.

The FBI had made more careful preparations of its own, searching the upper windows of houses overlooking the stadium for possible sniper positions. The stadium itself was to have uniformed police, local plain-clothesmen, as well as FBI agents in place that evening. On this Tuesday afternoon, representatives of the military, the local police, Principal Jess Matthews, and Superintendent Virgil Blossom held a final conference on the field.3 The fear of disruptions or even violence had risen to new heights after the baccalaureate ceremony for graduating seniors two days before. This traditional religious service, held on the Sunday afternoon before commencement, had gone off smoothly even with approximately "twenty negro spectators waiting to escort Ernest Green after the ceremony."4 But, when Green's family and friends exited the stadium, a white Central High senior boy, Curtis E. Stover, spat on one of the young black girls in Green's group. Police immediately took Stover into custody despite the screams of his mother, whose behavior worsened at the police station where they charged him with disturbing the peace.5 The baccalaureate ceremony had been open to the public, but school officials now decided to limit attendance at the graduation ceremony to eight tickets per graduate. The preparations for commencement by school administrators, local police, the military, and the FBI paid off. Ernest Green became the first black graduate of Central High School. Martin Luther King, Jr., was in the audience and rode away with the new graduate in a taxi.6

Elizabeth Huckaby largely fades from historians' accounts of the Little Rock crisis at this point. Even her own book, Crisis at Central High, chronicled events only in the first year of desegregation in Little Rock. But Huckaby remained an important figure over the following year, when high schools in the city were closed. Her personal diary provides an inside perspective on that second year after desegregation. As a non-elite participant in the drama of the "Lost Year," she gives voice to moderates in the community who dealt with the deepening crisis and adjusted to the demands of sweeping cultural change.7

Huckaby ended her own book by describing the relief she and her colleagues felt after the tense but peaceful school graduation ceremony.8 Huckaby's ninety-one teaching colleagues had met their classes daily from September 1957 to May 1958, despite crowds of protesters, walkouts by students, and soldiers in the hallways. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.