Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

Resistance to Public School Desegregation: Little Rock, Arkansas, and Beyond

Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

Resistance to Public School Desegregation: Little Rock, Arkansas, and Beyond

Article excerpt

Resistance to Public School Desegregation: Little Rock, Arkansas, and Beyond. By Frances Lisa Baer. (New York: LFB Scholarly Publishing, 2008. Pp.vii, 328. Acknowledgments, introduction, bibliography, index. $80.00.)

In this book, which is essentially its author's 2005 University of Alabama doctoral dissertation with the addition of subheadings, minor adjustments to its bibliography, and some pruning of its more expansive notes, Frances Lisa Baer presents a case for the importance of states' rights and interposition doctrine during the 1957-1959 Little Rock school desegregation crisis. From its eighteenth-century origins to its twentieth-century formulation as a racially neutral defense of segregation, interposition was always a nebulous but emotionally engaging idea. But Baer suggests that even after the Supreme Court finally laid it to legal rest in its 1958 Cooper v. Aaron determination, the notion that a state might intervene to preserve its heritage from the intrusion of unconstitutional federal authority persisted among populist politicians and their constituents. "The crisis," she concludes, "arose from the symbolic and constitutional ambiguities inherent in the very nature of American federalism" (p. 305).

As a case for the importance rather than the primacy of interposition in segregationist thinking, Baer's discussion is solid but not without its shortcomings. On the one hand, it tends to be subsumed within, or even at times overwhelmed by, a detailed and broadly unexceptionable recapitulation of the Little Rock story and, perhaps more significantly, undercut by tantalizing allusions to class consciousness and race-mixing as other key armaments in the segregationist battery. On the other hand, its application to specific Arkansan supporters of the "southern way of life" is not pursued as rigorously as the introduction suggests.

Baer contends that the ideas of Richmond, Virginia, newspaper editor James Jackson Kilpatrick were particularly influential in the development of interpositionist attitudes and clearly outlines Gov. Orval E. Faubus's expedient use of states' rights arguments to court popular support and rationalize his actions. There is, however, no attempt to establish a direct link between the theoretician and his putative disciple. Nor, except in a similarly indirect way (by citing an interview in which he reported that he had read some of Kilpatrick's editorials), is Arkansas's probably most voluble champion of states' rights, sometime gubernatorial aspirant James (Jim) Johnson, connected to any particular source of interpositionist ideology. …

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