School Segregation in Little Rock—Is it Ancient History?


The Civil Rights Movement ended in 1968, shortly after the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. It wasn’t all smooth sailing from there on out, but the fight for racial equality in the United States left many impactful legacies, including the “Little Rock Nine.” Sixty-two years later, residents of the Arkansas city fear their state’s plan to separate the control of the city’s schools will establish a precedent of school segregation. They worry that elected school boards will run the better schools that have white student majority while the state or another unknown group will have authority over the worse schools of a black majority. 

The Legacy of Little Rock

After the Brown v. Board of Education ruling in 1954, schools in the South slowly began to desegregate. In September of 1957, nine African American students planned to attend Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. Governor Orval Faubus, opposing the integration, placed the Arkansas National Guard around the high school, preventing the students from attending the for three weeks. Shortly after that, President Eisenhower sent 1,000 troops to Little Rock, and on September 25, 1957, the “Little Rock Nine” entered Central High, which became a significant event in the Civil Rights Movement and the fight for equity in education.

The Controversial Plan

Five years ago, Arkansas took control of all its public schools in Little Rock because some were not meeting the state’s academic standards. Now, a “secretive” plan has been recently approved by the State Board of Education, whose representatives were appointed by the governor. This plan outlines a school system which divides the schools into the northern and western parts of Little Rock and the southern and eastern regions by the way they are governed. A school board will control the schools with white majorities in the north and west, consisting of elected members. The state or some other organization will run the schools with the most black and Latino students in the south and east. The reasoning behind this divide comes down to school performances. Reverend Anika Whitfield of Little Rock says, “They’re telling us that, in part, they will slice us up, and the ‘A’ and ‘B’ schools will get their own representation and the ‘F’ school will get a different representation.” It just so happens that the “F” schools in the city are almost entirely comprised of a black majority while “A” and “B” schools are of a white majority. 

To the residents of Little Rock, especially those who are of African American descent and lived through the brutality and discrimination during the Civil Rights movement in the mid-1900s, this plan sounds a lot like school segregation. According to Joyce Elliot, a former Senate Majority Leader and first hand witness of school segregation, “We are very, very, very concerned that in 2019, a day before the anniversary of the desegregation of Central High School, that we would even have to entertain something like this and not understand that separate is segregation.” Many others are inclined to agree, calling the plan “shameful” and “deceitful.”

Final Thoughts

Learning about segregation in my high school history classes, I have always had the inclination that it had a start and endpoint. Unfortunately, racism is still prevalent in modern society, but segregation? 2019 is coming to a close, and it’s quite unbelievable that this is again happening. Separating schools by any means, whether it is by race or indeed by test scores, is wrong. Instead of rewarding the high-testing schools with more money and resources, school districts should focus on helping the schools that are struggling to meet the state standards.


This post was written by one of U4SC’s Educators 4SC Research Assistants, Samantha.

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