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The Integration of Hoxie High School

 

Hoxie is a small Lawrence County community located on the extreme northern edge of the black belt, it had only twenty-five black pupils, a school building in near ruins and no funds. The town consisted of one and two story structures strung along the Missouri Pacific and Frisco railroads that crossed paths there. Away from the main street, the roads were unpaved and residential areas scattered. Loungers in the town were mainly farmers in faded jeans. The women were unsmiling. Strangers did not feel at ease in the bleak little town.

With the support of the Superintendent Kunkel Edward Vance, who believed strongly in equal educational opportunity, the school was persuaded to proceed with integration plans after the 1954 court ruling. It was formally decided after a unanimous vote of the school board on June 25. Superintendent Vance gave three reasons for integration: 1) it was "right in the sight of God," 2) it complied with the Supreme Court Ruling, and 3) it was cheaper for the school system (Cochran). Previously the Negro high school students were sent twenty-three miles away to Jonesboro to Booker T. Washing High School for Negroes.

School began, as planned, on July 11 and racial integration also commenced at this time. Superintendent Vance said all facilities would be integrated including rest rooms, cafeterias, and drinking fountains. Vance iterated:

We are making no special preparations and are expecting no trouble of any kind. We will try to begin the new program without fanfare. No special attention will be paid to Negro students. It is our intention to treat every Negro and white child alike (Cochran).

The twenty-one Negro students, who came to enroll in accordance with school board directives, stood away from the rest of the students. Once school was in session the novelty among the students wore off. White boys sought out black youths to invite them to try out for basketball. Black and white girls played together. No incidents occurred on the first day of integration. From the initial appearances Hoxie was another successful effort for integration in Arkansas.

On Monday, July 25, the latest issue of Life magazine made its appearance in Hoxie. The magazine created a two-page spread entitled "Integration at Work in Hoxie" (Cochran). The intent was to show a pictorial view of a small community's effort toward compliance with the law. During the next week, literature coming from Memphis, St. Louis, Dallas, and Little Rock appeared in the mailboxes of townspeople expressing white supremacy. On August 3 approximately 350 segregationists convened in city hall to organize and protest the integration of their white schools (Cochran).

At this meeting Herbert Brewer was selected leader because he was not afraid to stand before the people and speak. The attitude that whites and blacks were not meant to attend school together prevailed at the segregationist meetings in City Hall in August of 1955. An unanimous vote to boycott the schools presumably resolved the problem of racial integration. Before adjournment, Brewer was elected chairman of the Citizens Committee Representing Segregation in the Hoxie Schools. The boycott began on August 4, Brewer claimed a 50 percent absentee rate the first day. However, Superintendent Vance refused to give an absentee figure, but did deny the 50 percent estimate. On August 9, the school board received a petition from the Brewer committee requesting that racial segregation in the Hoxie School District Number 46 be brought back into policy.

Expectations were for unpopular reaction among the Hoxie residents, but the school board was not prepared for the rush of white supremacists from outside the community. This eruption of racism accompanied by supporters abandoning Hoxie was devastating to the peaceful attempt at integration. Many outsiders came from all across to preach on white supremacy. Opposition at Hoxie was such that the school board could have reversed its integration decree, maintained friendship with the townspeople, and dropped back into racial segregation. This, however, was not to be the case.

The school board met on August 15, and voted unanimously to reject Brewer's petition to reconsider the integration decision. The next day segregationists in Hoxie sought a meeting with the school board in order to present petitions, containing 1,063 names, asking for the resignation of its members. Representatives of the State Press investigated the negroes whose names appeared on the petition and found that some of them could not read what they had signed (Cochran).

Governor Orval Faubus informed the school board at Hoxie that the state government would not intervene there, or in any school district. This refusal to become involved was a set back to the school board which was desperately looking for support.

At last, on October 14, 1955, the school board's attorneys filed suit on behalf of the board against Herbert Brewer and the Hoxie Committee for Segregation, Amis Guthridge and White America, Inc., and James Johnson and Curt Copeland and the White Citizens Council of Arkansas. Filed in the United States Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas at Little Rock, the suit asked federal district Judge Thomas C. Trimble to issue a temporary order restraining the defendants from any further interference with racial integration in the Hoxie schools. Judge Trimble issued the temporary restraining order the same day and decided to continue it in effect until he could rule on three questions involved in the suit: 1) whether or not his court had jurisdiction, 2) whether Arkansas laws calling for segregation of white and black students in public schools were any longer valid, and 3) whether a permanent injunction against the activities of supremacist at Hoxie should be granted (Dougan).

On November 1, Judge Trimble ruled that his court had jurisdiction over the Hoxie case, declared that under the Supreme Court decision of 1954 Arkansas laws calling for segregation in public schools were invalid and issued a temporary injunction to prevent the pro-segregation forces from boycotting and picketing the schools, trespassing on property, and threatening bodily harm to school board members and school administrators. Finally, he announced a hearing at the Jonesboro division of the federal court on December 8, to decided whether the temporary injunction of November 1 should be permanent.

On January 9, 1956, at Jonesboro, Judge Reeves ruled that the Supreme Court had nullified Arkansas's school segregation laws and that, consequently, the Hoxie school board was acting perfectly within the law in instituting integration when it did. Judge Reeves ordered the temporary injunction issued by Judge Trimble be made permanent.

It appeared that the Hoxie School board and Superintendent Vance had won, however this did not occur. Back on October 3, when the White American, Inc. was in full operation, they had filed a chancery court proceeding against the school board. He charged that the board had refused a request to meet with the anti-integration forces and the board had unlawfully done business with the district. On January 3, 1956, Chancellor Butt sustained the refusal of the school board attorneys in every stance (Dougan).

A year later, in October 1957, it was seen that Hoxie had 22 black students and about 900 white students in grades one to twelve. Hoxie thus became the first Southern case involving federal officials and successful integration (Cochran).

 

Cochran, Robert B. The Arkansas Historical Quarterly. Volume XLVII. Fayetteville: The Arkansas Historical Association. 1989

Dougan, michael B. Arkansas Odyssey: The Saga of Arkansas from Prehistoric Times to Present. Little Rock: Rose Publishing Company, Inc.