Tales of the Lost Year

After the Crisis Year of Little Rock Central High in 1957 the Little Rock School Board petitioned the courts in the Spring of 1958 for a delay in further desegregating Little Rock High Schools. In this case of Cooper v. Aaron, Judge Harry Lemley granted the requested delay on June 20, of 1958. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People immediately petitioned the US Supreme Court to overturn this delay. By August 18, 1959 the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the NAACP. The majority opinion stated:

"We say the time has not yet come in these United States when an order of a federal court must be whittled away, altered down or shamefully withdrawn in the face of violent and unlawful act of individual citizens in opposition thereto."

Soldiers Stationed Outside Central Highschool

September 12, 1958 the U S Supreme Court ordered the immediate integration of Little Rock Central High School. The same day Governor Orval Faubus invoked the power given him by the Arkansas General Assembly and signed all the bills recently passed during the Extraordinary Session held by the state legislature.

"I have signed into laws the acts passed by the recent special session of the legislature. Acting under the powers and responsibilities imposed upon me by these laws, I have ordered closed the senior high schools in Little Rock, in order to avoid the impending violence and disorder which would occur and to preserve the peace of the community." (Arkansas Gazette, Sept 13, 1958 p1A)

A Bus Ticket for a Lost Year Student forced to travel outside the city for schooling

Governor Faubus announced the closure of all high school in Little Rock on Friday, September 12, 1958. By the following Monday, the Little Rock School Board and Superintendent Virgil Blossom announced that all high school bands, football games and extracurricular activities were officially canceled. By Tuesday, September 16, Governor Faubus accused the Board of trying to arouse public sentiment against him in canceling the popular football programs. Board President Wayne Upton telegraphed the Governor the following message on that same day.

"Our sole motive in yesterday's action stopping extracurricular activities was strict compliance with your proclamation closing the high schools, which was presumed to close all school activities.

Your statement to the press today indicated that this was not your intention. Will you please advise us immediately as to which high school activities you intended that your proclamation cover?" (Arkansas Gazette September 17, 1958 1A)

When Governor Faubus closed all high schools in Little Rock, the Little Rock School District used 15 white teachers to teach for a time on the three local television stations early in the mornings. This was considered a stopgap measure to keep students active until Little Rock voters either endorsed school closure or rejected it. KATV, the ABC Affiliate, broadcast classes for sophomores, KTHV, the CBS Affiliate, showed course for juniors and KARK-TV, the NBC Affiliate broadcast courses for seniors. Superintendent Blossom pointed out:

"At Central High we offer 87 different subjects. On television we're attempting only the four basic subjects-English, history, science, and mathematics." (U. S. News and World Report Vol.45 October 1958 p. 73-75.)

The Arkansas General Assembly passed several laws targeting teachers or anyone who was a member of the NAACP. Howard Bell, a teacher at Central High, commented about Act 10 which required him to list all organizations to which he belonged or to which he paid dues:

"I thought that was too much prying into a person's background. That invaded our privacy. And it was a background for neo-Nazism which had just almost devastated the world in WWII. Every time I see its head rising on the horizon, I have something to say about privacy and individual freedom to express oneself or to join organizations."

A Student from the Lost Year

Lost Year Teachers Excerpts:

Lost Year Teachers Excerpts

Teachers under contract who went to work everyday but had no high school students to teach

Maud Woods a teacher at Horace Mann. Act 115 targeted NAACP members from working for the state, which included being a public school teacher.
"The joke was on them because they said. 'Were you a member of the NAACP?" and you said "no", but they couldn't keep you from making a contribution. So we doubled it. This is what they asked us to do. Instead of going in stores and charging and buying, you stopped buying and that's how you made your contribution. Every time you wanted to go buy something, you made a donation."
Gene Hall head football coach at Central High, recalled that though all other teachers had no interaction with high school students, the football coaches were an exception. Once their peculiar season ended, however, their students scattered to find alternative schooling.
"You know we always take a team picture at the end of the year. We didn't have, I mean, the day football was over that year, they were gone and we didn't have them to take that team photo. But we had our school photographer, Bill Lincoln...he had taken individual pictures of all the boys and we made a composite team picture, just their heads, which I still have."
Leon Adams a black music teacher at Horace Mann, reminds us that Horace Mann High School was a fully accredited black high school, just as its predecessor Dunbar High in Little Rock had been. Adams asked:
"Think about this. The schools in Little Rock, the black schools in Little Rock, were the premier schools in the state. Where else could our students go? We had student who had paid tuition to come in from the county to attend Horace Mann, and now we were asking where can our students go for a quality education?"
Nancy Popperfuss an English teacher at Hall High explained that "there were still some segregationists in the faculties at that time. She said that discussing some subjects among the greater white community was a sensitive task.
"There were some issues that you just didn't discuss because they were just explosive topics at the time. We have come so far. People just don't realize how explosive it was."
Coach Oliver Elders Though he was to coach basketball as a new teacher at Horace Mann High School, Elders never fielded a basketball team that year. He, like other teachers, parents, and students were frustrated.
"The biggest frustration was to not have students. You just can't conceive of how a teacher feels coming to school every day without students to teach. It's almost like you're in gear. You are accustomed to having students around you and presenting and teaching and then you walk into this big gym and nobody's there. It's quiet. It's just like what happens during a holiday and all of a sudden, students are dismissed on a snow day and you're walkin' into the gym and there's just a hush, a quietness. And that went on…every day. It left an impression with you, 'My goodness, what are we doin'?'"
Mary Ann Wright teacher at Hall High said that teachers with differing views avoided discussions with one another.
"I think everybody knew how everybody else felt….I think you tended to gravitate toward the people who felt the way you did. You know, you had to be with these people every day and to be contentious with them would've been most unpleasant."
Jerome Muldrew a teacher at Horace Mann had graduated from Dunbar High in Little Rock. Being a new teacher, he described separate education at Horace Mann (opened in 1956).
"The building was new. It was a beginning. I think that the Little Rock School District was looking at the writing on the wall. That the day was over for second class textbooks and poor facilities and that type of thing."
Lola Dunnavant a teacher at Central. As schools remained closed the morale among teachers decreased and fears about job insecurity rose. Dunnavant recorded in her diary on February 16, 1959:
Nearly everybody seems to have lost spirit. They just go from day to day. I do hope that I will not have to leave Little Rock next year, but one never knows. If the schools do not open, I will have to get another job….but to go away alone and leave my home and friends, that's hard."
Oliver Elders a black coach at Horace Mann who was new to Little Rock talked about the generally accepted rule that he had heard: blacks should not venture west of High Street.
"There was just a whole lot of agitation then, a whole lot of talking and all that kind of stuff. I did feel that I wasn't welcome over there and I didn't intend to go over there to find out whether I was or not. Why would I go over there to find out whether I was or not? I didn't go over there to shop, I had no friends over there. So I said, 'fine.'"
Jo Ann Royster a "purged" teacher from Central High, was only in her second year of teaching. On May 5, 1958 three segregationist members of the Little Rock School Board declared themselves a quorum and began firing teachers and administrators. They fired 5 blacks and 39 whites. Of these, 27 were from Central and 17 from other schools. Jo Ann Royster said.
"I remember being greatly surprised when I saw my name on that list, but then when I read all the names I felt that was very good company to be in. But it certainly did stir things up, I'll tell you that. It really got the community behind the schools."
Estella Johnson, a Lost Year Student Preparing to be Interviewed

Lost Year Student Excerpts:

Lost Year Student Excerpts

These comments come from the "Lost Year" students affected by the high school closings:

One former student who wished to be anonymous said:
"My parents felt that Governor Faubus had no other choice. They were staunch segregationists and totally behind him. They praised him highly. Racial integration was preached to be wrong from the pulpit and confirmed in the home."
This same student attended high school in a nearby community where she described how she was received in the rural school.
"There were some really sweet students that attended Fuller who accepted us, but others were very angry that we were there…it's funny that race had nothing to do with this situation. It was, instead, a city versus country issue."
Roy Wade, a black junior, enrolled in nearby Wrightsville and recalled relationships within the overcrowded school.
"We were able to establish some friendships with some of them, but they felt we were invading their space and their school and (we) hindered them because of the numbers. There were so many until it affected their education as well as our education."
Paul W. Hoover, Jr. was the son of a prominent Little Rock surgeon. Being white and from a financially secure family he was able to transfer to a private prep school for boys in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He doesn't remember being "necessarily pleased" with the decision, but Hoover now looks back and says:
"It was the finest and best decision my parents ever made for me because it turned my life around. You had to study, you had to work for everything you got there."
Grant Cochran, a black sophomore, moved in with his grandparents about sixty miles from Little Rock.
"My grandfather drove a school bus and would pick up all the kids in the rural area and take us down to a highway and then I would catch the yellow bus all the way to Menifee High. Of course, we would have to get up early in the morning, around four or five o'clock, and then we'd get back home about six or seven o'clock in the evening."
Danny Pytilla was scheduled to be a sophomore at Horace Mann High but he did not attend school anywhere that year. The eldest of eight children, he sadly remembers they lived with their grandmother in a housing project in one of the poorest neighborhoods, Granite Mountain. He explained further:
"We had just lost our mother to a serious illness in May of 1958 and there was no way my grandmother could afford to send me anywhere else to school."
Dick Gardner was a white junior who lived one block from Central High and waited with friends and neighbors for schools to open in the fall of 1958. By October, Gardner asked his parents to give permission for him to join the U.S. Navy. He joined the Navy at seventeen and served until he was twenty-one.
"We didn't have a school and we didn't have a job and it didn't look too good. The Navy would give me a job. They would train me. I think things would have been different if I had not left home. I know I would have finished high school at Central. I'd have gone to college. My daddy would have seen to that. He would have seen to it."
Carol Hallum, a white displaced junior, attended T. J. Raney High, a private high school that opened in October of the Lost Year. Many considered it to be a segregationist school since Governor Faubus supported it publicly and solicited donations in public speeches. But Hallum believes some attended because it was free.
"When they said there was going to be a private school and it would not cost anything, my parents said, 'you're going.' I didn't go to the other private school because it cost. There was tuition for the Baptist High School and we didn't have the funds for that. So until Raney opened up, I would not have gone to school. There was no other place to send me."
Toshio Oishi was a Japanese American whose family had been interned during WWII and later worked as laborers on a truck farm in Scott, AR. Because of declining enrollment, all Scott high school students were bussed to nearby schools in England or to Central High School in Little Rock during the crisis year of 1957 - 1958. Oishi's comments help explain the racial tone of the time.
"I was very concerned during registration and prior to attending Central High of being given a difficult time because my skin was dark from working outdoors on the farm. This turned out to be an unwarranted fear."
David Scruggs, a white senior from Central High and Sports Editor for the student newspaper, the Tiger, hoped for a career in journalism. He attended the second semester of his senior year at T. J. Raney, a private white school.
"I always felt that year I was at loose ends. I wasn't studying journalism anymore. I didn't have a lot of will. My grades were bad. I did not do well. I can't say I really profited at all academically."
Jerry Baldwin, a sophomore at Central High, rode the bus to Hazen, AR.
"We rode the Trailway bus from the terminal downtown. My mother had seen an article in the newspaper and called and got me on the list and I was accepted. I attended the whole year, as did all of us that rode the bus."
Bowman Burns, a black junior from Horace Mann didn't go to school
"I didn't go to school that year. I got a job and I thought I would take advantage of it, what it really boiled down to. It really began to soak in that you are going to have to get out there on your own. I wish I had gone on to school now that I look back at it. Because I would have graduated with my own class, when I ended up graduating with the next class."
Almeta Lanum Smith was to be a junior at Horace Mann High. Instead both she and her sister went to Pine Bluff (about 50 miles away) to attend a black Catholic high school.
"We didn't have a car. We were just fortunate, we really were. We (my sister and I) went to St. Peter's in Pine Bluff. And the way we found out, a friend's father was working down there and he was going every day and coming back and Carmellita Smith was going with her dad and she and my sister were very good buddies. And so my mother asked if we could ride along with them. So that's what we did"
Myles Adams was a white junior at Hall High but rode a church bus to Conway every day to attend an "academy" that Central Baptist College formed for displaced students.
"When it (the Academy) came up, it was so late in the year. I don't think that we started until October sometime. It was so late that we wound up going six days a week through June of that year. Then we had some bad winter days and we had to make up for those days. In order for our Academy to have all our credits, we had to meet all those guidelines."
Edie (Edith Faye Garland) Barentine, a white senior from Hall High, was sent to Oklahoma to live with relatives for her senior year. Before, she was active in her church, served as a white counselor at an all black Methodist camp and participated in mixed-race discussion groups at the YWCA and in private homes. She remembered saying:
"'If I ever come face to face with Orval Faubus he will hear what I think of him.' I wanted someone to blame for what happened in the Lost Year and what happened at Central High. Many, many years later I ended up alone on an elevator with him. He was much older. I noticed his suit was ill-fitting and his shoes were dirty. We made no eye contact, and in that short ride, I thought, 'this is a man and he is vulnerable, and he is old and tired.' And all of that hate just left me. His shoes were dirty and I had never stood in his shoes. As he exited the elevator, I looked at him and was able to say 'It's good to see you, Governor.'"
The Lost Year
In the documentary film The Lost Year, the recollections of students and teachers who lived through this tumultuous time are interspersed with narration explaining the history and politics of the year to bring this previously untold story to vivid life.
Sondra Gordy's Finding the Lost Year
Finding the Lost Year: What Happened When Little Rock Closed its Public Schools was published in 2009 and expands the topic of this website and the documentary film. Written by historian Dr Sondra Gordy, this oral history extensively details events from May 1958 through August 1959 through the perspective of displaced students and teachers.
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