Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

Historians of the Central High Crisis and Little Rock's Working-Class Whites: A Review Essay

Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

Historians of the Central High Crisis and Little Rock's Working-Class Whites: A Review Essay

Article excerpt

Historians of the Central High Crisis and Little Rock's Working- Class Whites: A Review Essay Little Rock: Race and Resistance at Central High School. By Karen Anderson. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010. Pp. x, 330. Acknowledgments, introduction, abbreviations, illustrations, notes, index. $37.50.)

ON MAY 22, 1959, Arkansas governor Orval Faubus secured time on Little Rock television to boost the segregationist cause in the city's upcoming school board election. All six board members were facing a recall vote that historians generally view as the beginning of the end of the Central High crisis. Angered by the firing of forty-four educators seen as sympathetic to integration and wanting to reopen the high schools that the governor and voters had closed to avoid desegregation, the city's white racial moderates had formed Stop This Outrageous Purge (STOP) and secured sufficient signatures to place the three segregationist board members on the recall ballot. Segregationist forces-organized as the Committee to Retain Our Segregated Schools (CROSS)-responded by doing the same to the school board's three moderate members, transforming the election into a referendum on school integration. In his endorsement of CROSS's efforts, Faubus told his television audience that the contest was part of a class struggle among the city's whites. He derided the STOP forces as the "Cadillac brigade," insisting that they comprised the city's "prominent and wealthy," and accused them of trying to force integration upon "the honest white people of the middle and lower classes."1

Historians, including, most recently, Karen Anderson, have generally regarded Faubus's statement as an accurate assessment of the class dynamics at play among the city's whites during the Central High crisis.2 Yet Arkansas Gazette reporter Roy Reed observed in the wake of the moderates' extremely narrow victory that "Governor Faubus did not come anywhere near success in stirring up a 'class war' to benefit the [segregationist] element." Reed explained that "a study of the vote by precincts . . . . shows that the [white] working people seem to be shifting to a stronger stand for public education [i.e. reopening the public high schools on an integrated basis]." He cited returns from several neighborhoods, including the Fourth Ward, populated mostly by white "skilled laborers and industrial workers," where the moderates "picked up about 40 per cent of the ballots." This increased support from working-class whites provided STOP's margin of victory. Reed noted that backing for the moderates from the "silk stocking" neighborhoods of the far west side and black neighborhoods on the east side was the same as it had been during the previous two elections, one of which was won by the segregationists and the other of which produced a board split evenly between moderates and segregationists. Only the white working-class neighborhoods had shown an increasing percentage of ballots going to the moderates, and Reed credited the city's industrial unions for much of this change.3

Reed's insistence that white working-class votes were the key to STOP's victory is corroborated by the more detailed statistics offered up the following year by University of Arkansas political scientist Henry Alexander, who classified the precinct level returns in terms of both race and income. The returns indicate that 40.4 percent of voters in white "Middle-Income" precincts cast ballots to retain moderate school board member Ted Lamb and 45.4 percent of those same voters cast ballots to remove segregationist Robert Laster. Although "Upper-Income" whites were about 1.7 times more likely to vote for the STOP ticket than their "Middle-Income" counterparts, the majority of STOP votes from white precincts came from areas Alexander designated as "Middle-Income" and "Low-Income." The precincts populated by those Faubus called "the honest white people of the middle and lower classes" cast 64. …

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