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Finding the Lost Year

What Happened When Little Rock Closed Its Public Schools

Sondra Gordy

Publication Year: 2009

Much has been written about the Little Rock School Crisis of 1957, but very little has been devoted to the following year—the Lost Year, 1958–59—when Little Rock schools were closed to all students, both black and white. Finding the Lost Year is the first book to look at the unresolved elements of the school desegregation crisis and how it turned into a community crisis, when policymakers thwarted desegregation and challenged the creation of a racially integrated community and when competing groups staked out agendas that set Arkansas’s capital on a path that has played out for the past fifty years. In Little Rock in 1958, 3,665 students were locked out of a free public education. Teachers’ lives were disrupted, but students’ lives were even more confused. Some were able to attend schools outside the city, some left the state, some joined the military, some took correspondence courses, but fully 50 percent of the black students went without any schooling. Drawing on personal interviews with over sixty former teachers and students, black and white, Gordy details the long-term consequences for students affected by events and circumstances over which they had little control.

Published by: University of Arkansas Press

CONTENTS

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pp. vii-

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ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

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pp. ix-

This book would not have been written without the advice and generous kindness of friends, colleagues, and those who were once strangers. Because the research for this book began over thirteen years ago, citing each individual who helped me along the way is impossible, but to each of you I am grateful. For the many Lost Year participants who granted me interviews, thank you for allowing me to tell your story.

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INTRODUCTION

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pp. xi-xxvii

September 1957 lives in the minds of many Americans as a time of disgrace for citizens and high school students in Little Rock, Arkansas. Many writers and historians have documented the initial story of the Little Rock Central High desegregation crisis. Images of shouting segregationists and tales of miscreant classmates play out in the black and white images of the day: Governor Orval Faubus calls out the Arkansas...

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1. The Summer of Relief Turns to Anxiety

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pp. 1-31

LITTLE ROCK, MAY 27–SEPTEMBER 12, 1958 MAY 27. Central High graduation. JUNE 3. Federal district court hearing regarding requested two-and-one- half-year delay in further integration by the LRSD board. JUNE 3. Public dinner and celebration of Pulitzer Prizes won by the Arkansas Gazette. JUNE 21. Federal district court judge Harry J. Lemley grants a delay to the LRSD board. JULY 29. Governor Orval Faubus wins the Democratic nomination for his...

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2. Nothing but Confusion

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pp. 33-55

In the fall of 1958, Mrs. Lee T. Pearcy’s daughter Katherine was in Stuttgart, Germany, as a foreign exchange student. Her counterpart, seventeen-year-old Gerhard Maylaender from Germany, was residing with Mrs. Pearcy on Gaines Street in late September and expecting to attend Central High School with approximately 2,000 other students. When Maylaender was...

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3. Where Shall We Go?

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pp. 57-83

On Tuesday, September 30, 1958, all public high schools in the city sat closed to teachers, just as they had been to students since September 15. Just the day before, late in the afternoon, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis had issued restraining orders forbidding the Little Rock School District and its board from leasing public school buildings to a private school group. The order also restrained...

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4. Whom Shall We Blame?

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pp. 85-109

The Arkansas Legislative Council (ALC) was established in the 1940s to provide guidance to the Arkansas General Assembly between sessions. Made up of twenty-one senators and representatives, it was led by some of the most powerful and senior members of the legislature. Its connection to the teachers of the Lost Year began in the spring of 1958, when it directed members...

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5. Enter the Politicians

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pp. 111-131

The new year of 1959 began as students in most schools across the state returned to class and to the end of their first semester. Displaced Little Rock high school students, scattered among private or parochial schools in the city and other schools across the state or nation, did the same. Of course, many had no school to attend and had already joined the military, enrolled...

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6. Why Not Blame the Teachers?

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pp. 133-151

April was a disheartening month for Little Rock high school teachers, centering on two issues. First, two new state laws targeted public employees, and second, these teachers’ professional lives and careers in nationally accredited high schools were uncertain. The Arkansas General Assembly, in its extraordinary session of summer 1958, had passed Act 10, which...

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7. The Community Rallies—Some Leaders Do Not

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pp. 153-173

It would take a little time for Little Rock to understand what had happened on May 25, 1959. The words of Will Mitchell, the STOP campaign chairman, resonated with a slight majority of the population. At an eleven P.M. rally at the Marion Hotel on the night of the vote, he stated: “This is a great awakening of our home town. This is an occasion when the people of our...

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Afterword

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pp. 175-180

The loss of part or all of the 1958–59 school year was more than an inconvenience for 3,665 students, 177 teachers and administrators, their families, and their community. Both race and class brought disproportionate suffering to displaced black and some poor white students. Public schools lost support in the segregationist community. Public school teachers lost their...

APPENDIX

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pp. 181-201

NOTES

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pp. 203-233

INDEX [Includes About the Author, Back Cover]

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pp. 235-243


E-ISBN-13: 9781610751520
E-ISBN-10: 1610751523
Print-ISBN-13: 9781557289001
Print-ISBN-10: 155728900X

Page Count: 248
Illustrations: 9 documents
Publication Year: 2009

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Subject Headings

  • Discrimination in education -- Arkansas -- Little Rock.
  • African Americans -- Education -- Arkansas -- Little Rock.
  • African American students -- Arkansas -- Little Rock.
  • Little Rock (Ark.) -- Race relations.
  • Central High School (Little Rock, Ark.).
  • School integration -- Arkansas -- Little Rock.
  • Public schools -- Arkansas -- Little Rock.
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