Since before this country was formed as a collection of states, there has always been an issue of race in America. Arkansas is not unlike other states in America, struggling with racism and discrimination. Little Rock, Arkansas, is still the battling with these evils today, due to a system of oppression. This systematic oppression against non-whites in various forms, and various means, has created many more issues for both sides of the battle that still rages on today. It’s sad that with all the technology available, with all the social media connecting the world, with all the research and evidence proving that racism exists and is a very critical problem for society, that so many still refuse to acknowledge that it exists. So many people have been enculturated by their parents to believe that racial discrimination is acceptable behavior. Others are taught that it has ceased to exist, after the civil rights movement of the 1960’s and 1970s. Then there are those who have been the unfortunate victims of it, or have observed it happening and see it for what it truly is. No matter what people choose to believe, the fact is that it does exist, and is an unnecessary evil that only destroys and causes more social problems. Hopefully this article will help expose some truths about the origin of racial discrimination and the lingering school segregation issues, still being faced today in Little Rock.
During the 1900’s there were some major changes, especially with the disappearance of slavery and citizenship granted to blacks by the 13th Amendment. With citizenship came the ability for a small percentage of blacks to begin to own businesses and open schools. During the same time, came the rise of Jim Crow laws, which were designed to oppress and segregate the freed black citizens. Such ridiculous laws included denying voter rights for blacks and segregated buildings such as schools, hospitals, and churches. Then there was the segregation of public facilities like bathrooms, water fountains, benches, eating areas for diners, waiting rooms, public transportation seating. Although the Reconstruction era in America was focused on ending slavery and giving black people the ability to be equal, productive, and working members of society, it failed on a national level for many years. Arkansas was no different from the rest of the country, especially the south when it came to Jim Crow laws. One of Arkansas’ Jim Crow laws from 1903 made it illegal for white prisoners to be shackled or handcuffed to a black prisoner. Another Jim Crow law in Arkansas, passed by the state in 1947 made it illegal for any white person to be married or sleep with any black person. Violation of the law on the first offense was a penalty of twenty dollars up to one hundred dollars, the second offense was a penalty of one hundred dollars or more and jail time up to a year. The third offense was an automatic sentence of three years. Jim Crow laws passed to ensure segregation on trains or street cars were enforced by the state of Arkansas as well, and penalized the patrons and the company with fees and possible jail time for both parties. Which goes to show that it wasn’t a mere problem in some situations for business owners pushing for segregation, but rather the policy makers who had power over them.
By the end of the 1950’s, any Jim Crow laws were in place, had been in place for a while. So when we get to the Civil Rights movement of the late 150’s through the late 1970’s, there was a lot of resistance on a person to person level and on a state level. For most white Arkansans, they had become accustomed to “keeping them in their place” in regards to blacks who were beginning to stand up for their Constitutional rights. In March of 1960, the first sit in protest in Little Rock began with students from Philander Smith College, but was unsuccessful in reaching any resolutions due to a lack of cooperation with the local black community leaders, and the harsh fines placed on the students who participated in the sit in protests. Other civil rights organizations such as the NAACP of Little Rock, the Regional National Urban League, the Freedom Riders, the Congress of Racial Equality, and the Council on Community Affairs came to Little Rock, Arkansas to end segregation. The sit in movement in Little Rock, did not bring an end to segregation to Little Rock until the COCA representatives were able to negotiate with local business owners in fear that a large number of more black and white students would protest and march, which would expose their business practices to the media and the public. By February 15, 1962 the lawsuit filed by COCA to desegregate Little Rock public facilities. By 1964, the Civil Rights Act was passed and ended the Jim Crow laws on a federal level. However, it was up to the states to be forced to abide by this new federal law, which again took many years to gain compliance.
The most notable event in Arkansas civil rights history, would be the Central High School desegregation in Little Rock, Arkansas. It’s one of those events that is repeated and taught in general sense, but a lot of students don’t realize its significance. This attempt to desegregate this school was the result of the Board v. Board of Education decision of 1954, which ruled that “separate but equal” was false and unconstitutional. This school had previously been an all-white, prestigious high school, but when the desegregation began it was clear that the parents and students of this school were not. The governor of Arkansas at that time, Governor Orval Faubus was outraged at the idea of having to desegregate this school. He shortly after, arranged for the National Guard to arrive at the school to prevent the black students from integrating it. For this task, three male and six female students were selected, and were referred to as the Little Rock Nine. After ten days later, President Roosevelt called for a meeting with Governor Faubus, and ordered him to allow these students access to the high school. Afterwards, Governor Faubus agreed to begin to use the National Guard to protect the students integrating the school, from that point on. However, he did not keep his word, and when he returned to Arkansas, he ordered the National Guard to leave the school. The angry white mob then became more violent and terrorized the vandalized the school and attack several news reporters. Not long after the police were forced to evacuate the Little Rock Nine. In response, President Roosevelt ordered the 101st Airborne to Central High school, surrounding it and protecting the students for the remainder of the school year. These brave students were verbally assaulted, harassed, attacked, and received death threats on their journey to receive a high school education. Each day they made their way to and from the school, where they were met with a large angry crowd of whites from the community spewing hateful comments at them. In the end, not only did these students graduate from high school, but went on to obtain a college degree as well.
As of 2010, and according to CensusViewer.com, there were 81, 889 black people in Little Rock, which would be 42.31 percent of that population. The biracial and more category of people were 3,374, making up 1.74 percent of that population as well. For Hispanics in Little Rock, Arkansas there were 13,076, making up 6.76 percent of that population. For Caucasian people there were 94,665 people, making up 48.92 percent of that population. Compared to the 2000 census, black people were up 10.80 percent, biracial and more were up 44.13 percent, hispancs were up 168.12 percent, and Caucasians were down 6.28 percent in Little Rock, Arkansas. Since the early 2000’s, UALR and it’s Institute of Government has been doing surveys on race relations in the Little Rock area. They are not done to stir up the past, but to help correct current social problems. Wherein they believe, “you have to face it, to fix it”. The results they found were not necessarily shocking or surprising, but they are insightful to those who are willing to truly read them. According to one survey, asking about civil rights for blacks being changed in their lifetime, 72 percent of blacks and 85 percent of whites responded that it has improved. However, only 15 percent of blacks said it greatly improved, while 41 percent of whites believed it greatly improved. In 2006, citizens were asked if blacks were treated the same as whites, 71 percent of whites and 45 percent of blacks agreed that blacks were treated equal. When it comes to the justice system 90 percent of blacks believe that they are treated more harshly than whites, in comparison to 53 percent of whites. In regards to of the city Board of Directors to make equally fair policy decisions, 72 percent of whites trusted them a “fair amount”, while 44 percent of blacks trusted them a “fair amount”. In a survey of the police protecting them from violent crime, 63 percent of blacks did not trust them, while 39 percent of whites did not trust them to. The day to day racism experienced by blacks in Little Rock in 2005, within thirty days of taking the survey without notice are: 21 percent while in a store, 25 percent while at place of employment, 21 percent while at places of entertainment, 16 percent while dealing with police, and 17 percent while receiving health care. Of all the black respondents, 52 percent reported discrimination while shopping, at work, receiving health care, dealing with police, or at places of entertainment. At least 26 percent reported discrimination in at least two of them. Based on UALR’s findings, half of the blacks in the city experience racial discrimination in their ordinary activities every month. According to UALR, the community has two compelling incentives to address the issue of racial discrimination: 1) moral obligation, because it is the right thing to do; 2) economics, the community prospers and its good for everyone’s wallet.
So after all the numbers have pointed out the obvious existence of discrimination, and the historical evidence of the struggle for black people in Little Rock, nothing will bring more change than this community to acknowledge there is a problem to fix. If there is a problem of this magnitude in Little Rock, the state’s capital, then how can anyone deny that it exists in the smaller towns and cities of Arkansas? Arkansas continues to find itself in the national spotlight with its lack of morals, due to its discrimination against minorities. Whether it be blacks, Hispanics, Asians, or Muslims, Arkansas will soon have to catch up with the rest of the country when it comes to dealing with those who are different. The stubborn and outdated conservatives, will soon have to realize there were no good ol’ days, of the old south. The old south died with the end of slavery, the Civil Rights movement, desegregation, and the federal laws that protect them. If Little Rock is to be the shining city on the hill for the rest of Arkansas, it has to work harder to scrub away the blemishes of discriminatory practices and racism.