July 15, 2015 Edition

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Hoxie 21 event celebrates
importance of history

Jim Barksdale (from left) visits with Eudoris and Arlene Fielder and Tim Taylor during the 60th anniversary celebration of the desegregation of Hoxie School on Saturday. Barksdale, a 1979 graduate of Hoxie High School and son of Don Jean Barksdale-Bright, one of the Hoxie 21, introduced speakers who were there in 1955 when the school was integrated.
TD Photo ~ Gretchen Hunt

Gretchen Hunt

Nearly 200 gathered on Saturday at Hoxie's Mustang Gymnasium to mark the 60th anniversary of the 1955 integration of Hoxie School.

The theme throughout the event was the importance of preserving the history and recognizing the significance of what happened during the desegregation of Hoxie School.

Fran Cavenaugh, chair of the Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce Board, said the Chamber is honored to help tell the story of the Hoxie 21.

"It is time this story receives it rightful place in history," she said. "We are glad to announce our plans to rebuild the Hoxie Colored School."

Plans are to replicate the school that black students attended prior to the 1955 integration to house a museum and educational facility in Hoxie.

Several speak
at event

Hoxie Mayor Lanny Tinker said one of the fun things you get to do as mayor is make proclamations. He read his to those in attendance citing the courage of the 1955 school board, the bravery of the black community and the steadfastness of those who fought the segregationists and concluded with:

"I, Lanny Tinker, Mayor of Hoxie, do hereby proclaim Saturday, July 11th, as the day to commemorate our positive commitment to the integration of Hoxie Public Schools in 1955. We furthermore pledge to people of all races to continue as individuals and collectively as a community to support issues that are 'Right in the Sight of God.'"

A proclamation from the Arkansas Martin Luther King Jr. Commission was also read citing that Supt. K.E. Vance had given three reasons for integration: "It was 'right in the sight of God,' it complied with the Supreme Court ruling and it saved money."

"Hoxie is important because Hoxie, by far, is the best story of successful diversity in the State of Arkansas," the proclamation states. "There are many lessons to be learned from this multi-faceted event of 1955."

The current Hoxie School Board convened a brief special meeting during the celebration to pass a resolution showing support of the decision of the 1955 board, as well as support of current efforts to build a museum to preserve that history.

Nathan Davis, field representative for U.S. Sen. John Boozman, said Boozman was sorry he was unable to attend Saturday's event, but wanted to do something special to honor the Hoxie 21. He made a speech that was entered into the Congressional Record, and Davis shared it with those in attendance on Saturday and presented copies to the city, the school and the Hoxie 21.

"I congratulate the town of Hoxie and the Hoxie 21 on this milestone," Boozman said in his speech. "I am encouraged by your dedication to share this history and positive message. I thank the Hoxie 21 and the community for their bravery in the face of adversity. It is an honor to tell your story and educate people about your struggle."

Following a video message from Gov. Asa Hutchinson, Congressman Rick Crawford spoke to the crowd. He shared his pride in being an American, stating that the actions that happened 60 years ago happened because it was America.

"It wasn't easy for the school board," he said of their decision to voluntarily integrate. "It was not easy for the families to send their kids to school and trust they would be OK."

He told those gathered that racism is still an issue today, but that racism does not belong to a particular state, but is a state of the heart.

"Those first steps were hard, and they don't get any easier over time," he said. "It was about doing the right thing, and there is no wrong time to do the right thing."

Memories shared

Saturday's program also included a time for "those who were there" to speak. Jim Barksdale of Jonesboro, a 1979 graduate of Hoxie High School and son of Don Jean Barksdale-Bright, one of the Hoxie 21, introduced several who shared their stories.

Among those he introduced was his mother. "She was the youngest of Ruben and Mary Barksdale's 23 children, and she helped pave the way that allowed me to have 12 wonderful years at Hoxie School," he said.

She shared with attendees that the transition to the integrated school was definitely made easier thanks to the teachers and coaches who were on staff at the time.

"I cannot say enough for our teachers," she said.

Ethel Tompkins, the first African-American Hoxie graduate, said as a young girl, she didn't really understand the ramifications of what was happening in Hoxie.

"I was just going on an adventure," she said of becoming a student at Hoxie School on July 11, 1955. "Only after I became an adult did I realize the true significance of what had happened."

She said a number of the white students were her friends already, and when school started they were still her friends.

"They helped me adjust," she said.

She said she didn't realize it then, but those days helped her later when she joined the service and worked with people of different races and nationalities. She thanked Hoxie High School for preparing her for life and also gave credit to her father for giving her advice that helped her be comfortable in new situations.

"My dad always taught me, walk into a room with your head held high and know you belong because you are a child of God," she said.

Gene Vance, son of Howard Vance, president of the 1955 Hoxie School Board, remarked on the incredible history of the desegregation of the school. The documentary, "Hoxie: The First Stand" was shown during Saturday's festivities, and Gene commented that what he could say was a grain of sand on the beach compared to the history of the events of 1955.

"Each time I see that documentary it speaks to me more," he said.

Gene said he was a student at Hoxie School District's elementary school in Sedgwick when the integration took place, but the impact was definitely felt in his home.

"This action set the stage in the United States," he said. "No one wanted to tackle it."

He said the actions of the Hoxie School Board, Bill Penix and the NAACP reached across the state and nation.

"Because of what happened in Hoxie, federal troops were sent to Little Rock, and those children got to go to school, as well," he said. "Let's work diligently to keep our story alive!"

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