July 27, 2011 Edition

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Hoxie School desegregation
is proud part of LawCo. history

John Bland
Publisher

When attending meetings of the Arkansas Press Association, fellow newspaper people routinely ask, "What's going on in your area?" I took pride at last week's APA convention in Hot Springs in telling about plans for The Beatles monument to commemorate their historic September 1964 visit to the Walnut Ridge Airport. I repeated the story several times.

At some point, I also mentioned that we'd be missing a luncheon Saturday due to an event in Little Rock, an anniversary celebration of the 1955 Hoxie School desegregation.

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Little did I realize what an impact the event would have on me. Hearing the stories first-hand of those involved in the desegregation was inspiring, to say the least. Members of the Hoxie 21, the first group of African-American students to attend the previously all-white school, shared their reflections of that experience.

Gene Vance, son of the late Howard Vance, school board president at the time, and Charles Penix, son of the late Bill and Marian Penix, attorneys for the school, gave their perspectives on the event.

Courage was the resounding theme. It took moral courage for the Hoxie School Board to unanimously vote to desegregate the school, despite repeated threats and harassment. It took courage for the parents of the black students to send their children to a previously all-white school. And of course, it took courage on the part of the black students. Can we really imagine how frightening that must have been? It also took courage for the white students, some of whose parents were segregationists, to accept the black students.

All of us with connections to Lawrence County can take pride in the 1955 Hoxie School desegregation. Attending Saturday's event left me with a burning desire to see much wider recognition of the historical event, the first "challenged" desegregation to occur after the Supreme Court's landmark decision in Brown vs. Board of Education.

Some people, such as Charles and Jackie Snapp, obviously realize historical significance. While they are heading up the effort for The Beatles sculpture and Rock 'n' Roll Highway 67 guitar plaza, they are also supporters of the Hoxie 21 monument. Their names appeared in the Hoxie 21 program in a short list of those who have already made financial donations to the Hoxie 21 monument, "Success Against The Grain."

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Fayth Hill Washington and Ethel Tompkins, both part of the Hoxie 21, plan to have follow-up events in the Hoxie/Walnut Ridge area and Jonesboro to promote the project.

Many would like to see a monument, plaque or something in Lawrence County to commemorate the event, as well. Ethel shared that artist John Deering has agreed to provide a plaque or rendering of the Hoxie desegregation story if a location can be found to place it.

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