Dr. Patricia Washington McGraw, Mr. Milton P. Crenchaw & Pat Johnson

Two residents from Randolph County attended the “Profiles in Arkansas Black History” seminar at the Historic Arkansas Museum in Little Rock Saturday, June 14. Pat Johnson, Chairperson for the Eddie Mae Herron Center Board of Directors, and Cindy Robinett, Administrator of the Randolph County Heritage Museum were joined by others from across the state for a day of presentations about significant African-Americans throughout Arkansas’ history.

Pat Johnson is seen above with two of the many speakers. On the left is Dr. Patricia Washington McGraw, a Little Rock native, who became the first African-American professor at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. Today, at age 70, she is an author, activist and enthusiastic speaker.

In the middle is Mr. Milton P. Crenchaw, also from Little Rock, who was the senior flight instructor at Tuskegee Institute known for the training of the famed Tuskegee Airmen during World War II. In 2007, he and fellow Tuskegee Airmen were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in Washington D.C. Mr. Crenchaw is 90 years old.

The workshop was sponsored by the Black History Commission of Arkansas and the Arkansas History Commission.
Following the seminar, Johnson and Robinett drove to the Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site, and toured the educational center and walked across the historic campus.

Central High School

In 1954, the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka decision officially declared segregation in public schools as unconstitutional. All U.S. public schools were instructed to integrate. Within a week, Arkansas was one of two Southern states to announce it would begin immediately to take steps to comply with the new ruling. The Arkansas Law School had been integrated since 1949, and by 1957, seven of Arkansas’s eight state universities had desegregated. Blacks had been appointed to state boards and elected to local offices; however, public state high schools were a different story.

In September of 1957, the public school ruling was tested for the first time when nine black students enrolled at Little Rock’s previously all-white Central High School.
The following details the sequence of events before, during and after the desegregation attempt and can be found at http://www.arkansas.com/central-high/history/.

On September 2, 1957, the day before classes begin for the new school year, Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus summons the Arkansas National Guard to surround Central High School and block any attempts by black students to enter the school. Faubus announces in a public television speech that the orders are a proactive approach to prevent violence to all citizens and property and to “preserve the peace.”

September 4 – nine black students attempt to enter Central High but are turned away by the National Guard.

September 20 – A federal judge grants an injunction to NAACP lawyers Thurgood Marshall and Wiley Branton to impede the governor’s use of the National Guard. The troops withdraw.

September 23 – Little Rock police officers and over 1,000 integration protestors surround the school in anticipation of the black students’ attempt to enter the school. The police escort the students into the high school’s side door unnoticed. Outside, the mob learns of the students’ entrance and becomes angry and aggressive. They begin to challenge the police officers. Fearful the crowd will get out of control, the school administration moves the black students out a side door before noon.

September 24 – U.S. Congressman Brooks Hays and Little Rock Mayor Woodrow Mann ask the federal government for help via a telegram to President Dwight Eisenhower. President Eisenhower displaces between 1,100 and 1,200 federal troops of the 101st Airborne Division and places 10,000 National Guardsmen on duty.

September 25 – The Little Rock Nine, under protection from federal troops, enter Central High School through the front entrance. Aggressive white mobs verbally chastise the students and physically harm black reporters in the crowd covering the affair. The event is seen around the world.

Fifty years later, the courageous efforts of the Little Rock Nine are celebrated as one of the most defining chapters in Little Rock’s history, and as one of the earliest victories of a long overdue civil rights movement. Central High remains one of the leading education centers in Arkansas and stands as an icon for racial equality and social reform. It has become a National Historic Site and the Educational Visitor’s Center has a large interactive timeline and exhibit detailing the crisis and aftermath.