Easing a Country's Conscience: Little Rock's Central High School in Film

By Collins, Janelle | Southern Quarterly, October 1, 2008 | Go to article overview

Easing a Country's Conscience: Little Rock's Central High School in Film


Collins, Janelle, Southern Quarterly


The most well-known event in Arkansas civil rights movement activism (and arguably the most-well known event in Arkansas history) is the desegregation of Little Rock's Central High School in 1957. In order to prevent federally mandated integration of the school, Governor Orval E. Faubus ordered the Arkansas National Guard to surround Central High on its opening day of classes, 3 September 1957. Faubus's defiance fueled segregationist resistance in Little Rock and throughout the South. When ensuing legal challenges upheld the constitutional validity of the Supreme Court's 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, Faubus removed the guard and left an inadequate city police force to maintain control of segregationist crowds. The resulting mob violence impelled President Dwight D. Eisenhower to send federal troops to Little Rock to establish order outside the school and offer protection to the nine black students inside the school. The relatively new medium of television beamed vivid footage of the conflict into homes across the country, and the images of antagonistic crowds and armed guards surrounding a public school defined Little Rock in the national consciousness for decades.

The television news footage and print photographs of Little Rock in 1957 remain some of the most indelible and iconic images from the civil rights movement. The images of Central High School besieged by screaming mobs offer stunning but primarily external views of the site of the conflict. In 1981, however, television revisited the story in Crisis at Central High, taking viewers inside the school walls through a narrative dramatization adapted from the memoir of Elizabeth Huckaby, vice principal of girls during the crisis. The made-for-TV docudrama was the first public version of the story told from an insider's perspective, and it covered the events of the year from the chaos of opening day through the graduation of Ernest Green, the only senior in the Little Rock Nine. A second film version appeared in 1993, covering the same ground and again from an insider's perspective. This time, however, the film followed the path of that history-making senior in the made-for-cable Disney movie, The Ernest Green Story.

Crisis at Central High offers the perspective of a white school official, and as the title suggests, focuses especially on the institutional disruption caused by the court-mandated integration of Little Rock's largest and best high school. The Ernest Green Story appeared over a decade later and offers the perspective of one of the integrating students, focusing especially on the individual perseverance of the oldest of the black students who entered Central High in the fall of 1957. In addition to the contrasting viewpoints that are inflected by gender and race, the films also offer ostensibly competing ideologies, each specific to its historical, cultural, and political moment.

Marked by their specific historical moments, both films are also shaped by attention to their intended audience. The first film was two dozen years removed from its subject matter. In those twenty-four years, the reality of legally segregated schools faded into the collective memory of past injustice. The 1960s saw the death of Jim Crow and the passage of laws guaranteeing civil rights and equal opportunities for African Americans. Visual representations of inequality such as drinking fountains labeled "colored" and "white" disappeared. Affirmative action laws brought blacks and whites together in me workplace. And in 1977, twenty years after Central High's integration battle, 80 million viewers had turned on their televisions every night for a week and watched Alex Haley's Roots.1 The time was right for television to tell the Central High story.

The second film was even further removed from the historical moment. The Ernest Green Story appeared 36 years after the event. A rise in the black middle-class as well as the visible presence of African Americans in the entertainment industries helped prepare a mainstream audience to revisit the Little Rock story. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Easing a Country's Conscience: Little Rock's Central High School in Film
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    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.