Politics as Usual: Reviving
the Politics of Tokenism
The federal forces may eventually win the battle of Little
Rock, but it is these local citizens who will have to win the
war. It will be a very long and very cold one.
For Little Rock's citizens, the summer of 1959 was an anxious one. In June, the Ku Klux Klan received incorporation papers from the state of Arkansas, signaling the beginning of public recruitment efforts in the state. The Little Rock School Board's statement later that month that it would open the city's public high schools in the fall relieved parents worried about their children's future. At the same time, some segregationists reacted with anger and voiced their determination to prevent any form of desegregation in the schools. Many citizens worried about the social discord and potential for violence that the school board's announcement had generated. Daisy Bates, who had been receiving threats in her role as president of the Arkansas NAACP, had a bomb explode in her yard on July 7.2
The next few months and years would prove pivotal in determining the future of race relations and school politics in Little Rock. Some segregationists would adopt violent strategies that placed supporters of segregated schools on the defensive. Would the Capital Citizens' Council denounce violent segregationists and their actions or would it stand by them? How would moderate business leaders respond to violent actions? Who would prevail in the continuing standoff involving African American leaders, the NAACP, the WEC, and the school board over its politics of tokenism in school integration?
When the U.S. District Court ruled in June 1959 that the state's school closing and school vouchers laws were unconstitutional, segregationists