The Politics of School Closure:
Massive Resistance Put to
the Test, 1958–1959
Like most parents, my first concern is for my own children.
We have a son who is a senior in Central High. He has al-
ready lost three weeks of schooling. He does not want to
join the 300 students who have transferred to other schools.
He wants to graduate from Central High. … Through the
years its graduates have shown that they can compete in
the best colleges and universities with the top students from
the best high schools and prep schools. … It is these students
who are the real losers in this squabble and who stand to
lose the most if we reject education in favor of segregation.
—Mrs. Charles Stephens1
The graduation of Ernest Green in May 1958 meant not a resolution to the crisis over desegregation in Little Rock, but rather the end of its first stage. Indeed, citizens were still haunted by the specter of federal troops in their midst and the open racial conflict and disorder in schools that had characterized the first year of desegregation. Few whites in Little Rock were committed even to the token efforts at integration achieved in the 1957–1958 academic year and most sought ways to evade the spirit and intent of federal court decisions while successfully claiming compliance. The result was a tangled web of legislation and litigation, culminating in the closing of the Little Rock public high schools for the 1958–1959 academic year and intensified debate over the purpose and the future of public schools in the South and the nation.