February 24, 2016 Edition

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Annie McDaniel Abrams (seated, center), an educator and leader in the Civil Rights Movement, visits with (from left) Lida Tinker, Terrell Downing, Katie Smith and Ethel Tompkins. With Abrams is Moniquea White, a volunteer with the Martin Luther King Jr., Commission.

MLK, Jr. Commission officials
visit prior to 'Remember Hoxie'

John Bland

The Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce hosted a reception and supper Sunday evening at The Studio in Walnut Ridge to welcome members of the Arkansas Martin Luther King, Jr. Commission to Northeast Arkansas.

The MLK, Jr. officials, many of whom were from central Arkansas, were in the area for the 2016 Nonviolence Youth Summit 16: "Remember Hoxie" that was held Monday at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro.

Also attending Sunday evening's event were officials from the City of Hoxie and Hoxie School, as well as several who were students at Hoxie School at the time it integrated in 1955.

Keynote speaker for the 2016 Nonviolence Youth Summit 16: "Remember Hoxie" was Ethel Tompkins of Hoxie, who shared her story of the Hoxie School integration in 1955. She was the first African-American graduate of Hoxie High School.

"Everything was just fabulous," Tompkins said of Monday's events at ASU.

After the Supreme Court decision, Brown vs. Board of Education in 1954, the Hoxie School Board voted voluntarily to integrate the school. In the Brown vs. Board of Education ruling, the court stated that "separate but equal" standards of racial segregation were unconstitutional.

The Hoxie School became the first challenged integration in the state of Arkansas when segregationists fought the decision in the court system. The board upheld its decision, as did the courts, paving the way for many other integration efforts in the future.

Dina Rose, chair of the Chamber Board, welcomed those present at Sunday's dinner, and Walter Washington with the Arkansas MLK, Jr. Commission spoke on behalf of DuShun Scarbrough, MLK, Jr. executive director.

"Amongst us we have history makers," Washington said.

One of those history makers present was Annie McDaniel Abrams of Little Rock, a retired educator. She spoke to the group about some of her noteworthy experiences in her work with the Civil Rights Movement.

She accompanied 27 children to walk in the first Martin Luther King, Jr. Parade in Atlanta.

President Bill Clinton appointed Abrams and Daisy Bates as honorary members of the National MLK, Jr. Commission. "The Martin Luther King, Jr. Commission has been the bridge that we're all crossing over to make this a better place," Abrams said.

She told the story of purchasing bracelets with a "hot check" in order to aid the effort to get Nelson Mandela out of jail in South Africa.

With a front row reserved seat at the first inauguration of President Clinton, Abrams said she got up from her seat when she saw Nelson Mandela standing in back. She believed he should be seated in front and tried to offer him her seat.

Fran Cavenaugh, executive director of the Chamber, shared how the story of the Hoxie integration had inspired her and Jackie Snapp. The Hoxie School integration was the first school district-wide integration, the first peaceful integration and the first challenged integration in Arkansas.

"As the school board said in the integration, ‘It was right in the sight of God,'" Cavenaugh said.

"We do have walking history in our towns every day," she said, adding, "In an era of regression of civil rights, the story (of Hoxie) should be told."

"For the Chamber, it is an honor and a privilege to be a part of this movement," Cavenaugh concluded.

The evening concluded with a showing of the documentary, "Hoxie: The First Stand."

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