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DATELINE: LITTLE ROCK, Ark.
At Principal Rudolph Howard’s high school,
Howard’s 1,800-student school serves, in his words, the poorest
of the poor and the richest of the rich, the worst of the worst and
the best of the best.
Academically, the inner-city school produced 23 National Merit
Semifinalists last year – 22 more than the Oklahoma City
But structurally, the mammoth tan brick building – the largest
school in America when built in 1927 – desperately needs $ 6 million
Nearly two football fields long and five stories high, this
school towers over a dilapidated, crime-ridden neighborhood.
A block away, drive-by gunfire killed an 18-year-old last month.
Yet, for many of Little Rock’s elite – including Arkansas Gov.
Mike Huckabee’s 10th-grade daughter – this is the school.
“There’s a lot of people who finagle to get their kids in,” said
Sam Blair, the guidance department chairman. “We really sort of
manage to attract students from the entire central Arkansas area.”
Such is historic Little Rock Central High School, 40 years after
President Dwight Eisenhower sent 1,200 soldiers to help nine black
students integrate the school – and change a nation.
On Sept. 2, 1957, Gov. Orval Faubus ordered the Arkansas
National Guard to prohibit the “Little Rock Nine” from entering
The next morning, disgruntled white parents, students and
pastors conducted a sunrise service at Central High, singing
“Dixie” and waving the Confederate flag.
When the black students tried to enter Central High, guardsmen
and an angry white mob turned them away.
On Sept. 20, U.S. District Judge Ronald Davies ruled Faubus had
not used the troops to preserve law and order. Davies ordered the
Three days later, the black students entered Central through a
side door as more than 1,000 whites cursed and fought out front.
But fearing for the students’ safety, police snuck them out of
the school that same morning.
Eisenhower called the rioting disgraceful and ordered federal
troops to Little Rock.
On Sept. 24, 1,200 members of the 101st Airborne Division, the
“Screaming Eagles” of Fort Campbell, Ky., rolled into Little Rock.
In addition, Eisenhower put the Arkansas National Guard under
The next day, the nine black students rode to Central High in
an Army staff car. More than 20 soldiers escorted them inside.
The blacks endured taunts and insults but attended Central the
rest of the year.
Jim Wilson, an Oklahoma Christian University history professor,
taught at Central in 1962.
“Even though they were integrated, blacks still walked around in
little groups for protection,” Wilson said.
But circumstances had changed when Wilson returned to Central a
few years later.
“The black football coach had just won a state championship, and
they had elected a black homecoming queen. It was a lot different.”
The Little Rock case tested the 1954 Brown vs. the Topeka, Kan.,
Board of Education ruling. In that case, the U.S. Supreme Court
struck down the “separate but equal” doctrine.
“It was really a turning point,” Wilson said of the Little Rock
Nine. “You had a governor of a state … and he would not obey the
law. This case proved that nobody is above the law.”
Today, Craig Rains owns a public relations firm and has an
executive suite blocks from the Arkansas State Capitol.
But in 1957, he was the senior class representative at Central
High. Like many white classmates, he feels slighted by history.
“The impression was, we were the bad guys,” said Rains, whose
clients include the Oklahoma Soft Drink Association. “That’s been
perpetuated all the way down basically by people who didn’t do
Of the 1,800 white students, roughly three dozen caused problems
that year, Rains said. “The other 1,770 were there to get an
education and abide by the law of the land.”
People ask why the white students never rallied for integration.
Rains responds that it was the 1950s.
“Had we been born in the ’60s, when the Vietnam War caused young
people to take a look at themselves, it might have been different,”
he said. “We might have taken up causes, been much more aggressive.
“But we didn’t know to do that. … We were a product of our
As senior representative, Rains raised the U.S. flag outside
Central each morning.
He learned firsthand what hate can do.
“I saw some crazy people out there, and I saw what mob mentality
will do. I got a new perspective on what was going on. I decided I
had something, and if those kids wanted what I had, that was fine.”
He vividly recalls Sept. 23, 1957.
He had just returned inside when the side door opened and the
nine black students walked in.
“They were just kind of lost. And I said, Are ya’ll looking for
the office?’ I said, Well, come on, I’ll show you.’ ”
As Rains and the Little Rock Nine walked down the hall, some
students ran out the door.
“By then, the mob outside knew the blacks were inside and they
Today, blacks make up 61 percent of Central’s enrollment.
And for the first time, the school has a black female student
“It’s about setting precedents,” Fatima McKindra, 17, said of
“It was just about time they had one. It feels good to know the
students had confidence in me, to look past not only the racial
barrier but also the sexual barrier.”
McKindra, a straight-A student, calls her school the best in
She cites its diversity and academic quality.
Central has neighborhood attendance boundaries. It also has an
international studies magnet program that attracts students from
all over Little Rock.
“We go from offering remedial courses to AP (advanced placement)
courses that are as close to a college course as you can get,”
McKindra said. “Mr. Charlie Brown’s AP European history is the most
feared class at Central.”
On the 40th anniversary Sept. 25, Central students will welcome
President Clinton and the entire Little Rock Nine, now in their
At the same time, the school will celebrate the opening of the$ 1
million Central High Visitors Center, in what was a gas station
across the street in 1957.
Prominent Little Rock businessman Rett Tucker, who is white,
spearheaded fund-raising for the visitors center, which will tell
“I think it’s important for Little Rock and Arkansas to talk
about it,” said Tucker, whose son attends Central and whose
daughter graduated last year.
“Some people have said this is a black eye and something that
should be forgotten. The people that are working on this visitors
center and this commemoration feel like you can’t sweep it under
“It’s not going to go away. So, why not deal with it and learn
from it and the progress that has been made?”
But the amount of progress depends on the speaker.
From 1968 to 1986, civil rights attorney John Walker was
influential in Oklahoma City desegregation.
The Little Rock attorney represented black optometrist A.L.
Dowell, who sued when the Oklahoma City School Board denied his son
admission to all-white Northeast High School. Dowell’s lawsuit led
to court-ordered busing.
In Little Rock, Walker has pursued his black plaintiffs’
desegregation case since 1964.
“That’s still a segregated school,” Walker said of Central.
“It’s segregated according to economics.”
While whites make up only one-third of Little Rock’s 25,000
students, they account for nearly half the students placed in
Of Central’s 23 National Merit Semifinalists, all but one were
white. However, Central has accounted for 15 of Arkansas’ 32 black
semifinalists since 1988.
“The children of the privileged and the well-to-do do get a good
education at Central High School, and some of the others get a good
education as well,” Walker said. “But all too many of our children
are in special education and other kinds of education that are more
or less dead-ended.”
Blacks tend to be overrepresented in special education, said
Ann Brown, who oversees Little Rock’s federal Office of
Likewise, black students’ standardized test scores still lag
behind whites’, although the gap has narrowed.
But Brown, whose husband, James “Charlie” Brown, teaches at
Central and whose son just started his sophomore year there, said
progress has occurred.
“But it’s difficult to change society’s attitudes and customs
and norms. It takes a while. But while a lot remains to be done, I
think it’s important to recognize progress that has been made.”
In the view of Principal Howard, educators must remain
steadfast. Stick to the basics. Teach the academic core subjects.
Resist fads. And, he believes, the rest will come.
A classroom door creaks as Howard steps inside.
Like most of Central’s 100 classrooms, this one has no computers
– and no place to plug them in if it did.
Paint is peeling off the wall. Ceiling tiles are caving in. But
a bulletin board lists students’ names and where they hope to
Megan Bradley – University of Missouri. Will Trice – SMU. Sarah
Keith – Brown University. Joseph Guy – Morehouse College. Larissa
Jennings – Harvard.
“Some people think that fine buildings and a lot of modern
equipment and all kinds of technological resources make the
difference in making a quality student,” Howard said. “I’ll take a
little bit of that.
“But I don’t think that’s what it’s about. It’s about caring and
commitment to make a difference.”
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In 1972, civil rights activists called Raymond and Yvonne York
Others praised them.
But then – and now – the Oklahoma City business owners said
their anti-busing stance had nothing to do with prejudice.
“It was never racial,” said Yvonne York, then a school board
member. “All I ever wanted was for my children to go to a school a
few blocks away.”
Twenty-five years ago this week, Oklahoma City schools began
forced crosstown busing. The court-ordered desegregation assigned
tens of thousands of students to unfamiliar schools miles from home.
At the time, the Yorks predicted dire results.
Rather than put their younger sons on a bus, the Yorks enrolled
both in a Christian school.
“We said, You will destroy the Oklahoma City school system,’ ”
Raymond York said. “And it almost has.
“We thank God they’re coming back to the neighborhood concept
and think that Oklahoma City will grow again.”
But Gloria Childs, whose black daughter was bused to Southeast
High School in 1972, views neighborhood schools as a return to
“It’s going to be the same problems right back again,” the
northeast Oklahoma City woman said. “They should leave it alone.”
Twenty-five years ago, Childs witnessed racial violence at
Southeast. As her daughter complained police had hit her, Childs
called on officers to arrest white students.
“The white kids have been cussing our kids, and it is our kids
who are in the paddy wagon,” she said at the time.
But a quarter-century later, schoolchildren no longer fear the
color of each other’s skin, she said.
“They don’t have to sleep together,” Childs said. “All they have
to do is just get along with each other during the day.”
Closer To Home
When school starts Monday, Oklahoma City sixth- through
eighth-grade students will return to neighborhood schools.
About 2,000 of the 8,000 middle school students will attend
schools closer to home.
The district still will provide transportation for students
living more than a mile and a half from school.
Meanwhile, the school board is discussing a high school
redistricting plan. The proposal would replace busing with six
neighborhood high schools and three districtwide magnet schools.
Elementary students returned to neighborhood schools 12 years
Busing no longer makes sense, if it ever did, because Oklahoma
City neighborhoods have become much more integrated, district
“I don’t think we will be losing anything with this plan,”
Assistant Superintendent Guy Sconzo said of middle school
But retired teacher Clara Luper, a longtime Oklahoma City civil
rights leader, disagrees.
“I wouldn’t believe that lie if I told it myself,” Luper said of
Oklahoma City becoming more integrated. “If so, go to Martin Luther
King School or go to Garden Oaks School, and see who’s in the
Last year, 206 of Garden Oaks Elementary’s 209 students were
black. At King Elementary, 297 of 303 students were black. This
year, Moon Middle School’s enrollment will be more than 90 percent
black, up from 53 percent last year.
“When the new people come into Oklahoma City, they aren’t moving
to the east side,” Luper said. “Therefore, we (blacks) are in a
Amid desegregation concerns, Oklahoma City already had lost
thousands of students before busing started in 1972.
At its heyday in 1967, the district had 75,000-plus students.
But by 1971, enrollment had dropped to 69,000.
Then came 1972.
Private schools formed overnight. Thousands fled for suburban
school districts like Putnam City and Edmond. Hundreds advocated
boycotting Oklahoma City schools.
Although U.S. District Judge Luther Bohanon never ordered busing
specifically, the boundaries he imposed left the district no choice.
“He said, That’s the school district’s responsibility to get
the students to the schools. They can get them there in a
wheelbarrow if they want,’ ” said Bill Lillard, then the
Enrollment fell to 61,000 in 1972-73, and dropped to 54,000 the
next year. By 1991, enrollment hit a low of 36,500.
“I think it’s tragic, and I’m not blaming anyone,” said Lillard,
University of Central Oklahoma president emeritus.
However, no one should label busing a complete failure, he said.
School integration has helped change attitudes, he said. Blacks
and whites shop in the same grocery stores, eat in the same
restaurants and think nothing of it.
“We seem to kind of overlook the 99 cases where blacks and
whites are getting along well,” Lillard said.
Last year, Oklahoma City schools had 39,971 students. Of those,
14,563 were white – the lowest number since busing began. In 1971,
nearly 50,000 Oklahoma City students were white.
On Aug. 28, 1972, the first day of school, 3,500 busing
opponents rallied at the state fairgrounds.
At many schools, violence disrupted learning.
As a Capitol Hill High School senior, Irvin Rickey had little
time for schoolwork.
He and his white friends were busy fighting black classmates.
“I don’t think necessarily there was any real hatred, like the
Ku Klux Klan,” said Rickey, who owns R&R Building Specialties
and R&R Construction Projects.
“It was just something that was forced on everybody.”
The first week of school, Rickey suffered a broken nose. A
headline in The Oklahoman reported: “School Fights Lead to Arrest
of 17 Juveniles … Southeast Teacher, Capitol Hill Pupil Reported
“It started in football,” Rickey said. “That’s when you had
your two-a-days. After practice, there were fights. It was strictly
Rickey asked a black classmate one time why everybody was
For the right to go to class, the classmate replied.
“If they were fighting for the right to go to class, why didn’t
they just go to class?” Rickey said. “We had several all-out brawls
where there was seven or eight of us, and we took them on.”
A few years ago, Rickey was volunteering at a downtown mission
when he ran into his old foes.
“I’ll be honest with you, even after all those years, there was
still some tension,” he said.
“But the Lord provided a way for us to mend some bad feelings.”
Not the Same
Oklahoma City School Board President Ron Bogle was Southeast High
School’s student body president in 1970.
But two years later, he didn’t recognize the school.
“The climate – the security – was very foreign to me,” said
Bogle, who had been away at college. “That was an extremely
difficult year for people at the school.
Rodd Moesel, president of American Plant Products & Services,
was Northwest Classen High School student council president in 1972.
He considered Northwest Classen a premier learning institution.
But he learned some Oklahoma City schools were inferior.
Instead of raising the lesser schools’ standards, the district
lowered the academic quality everywhere, Moesel said.
“Oklahoma City schools went from being leaders to being way
behind the suburban schools, and they’ve never caught up,” he said.
Through neighborhood schools, magnet schools and proposed
community-run enterprise schools, Oklahoma City school officials
hope to enrich the district’s image – and bring back patrons who
But it won’t be easy.
“We have 25 years of people being critical of Oklahoma City
schools, 25 years of Realtors telling people they don’t want to
live in Oklahoma City schools,” Bogle said.
“This school district is far, far better, I believe, than its
August 24, 1997, Sunday CITY EDITION
Topeka Schools Still Dealing With Desegregation IssuesBYLINE: Bobby Ross Jr., Staff WriterSECTION: NEWS; Pg. 14
LENGTH: 1145 words
DATELINE: TOPEKA, Kan.
In 1954, a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling put
Topeka schools on the civil rights map.Forty-three years later, the Kansas capital – like cities
nationwide – still struggles to balance black and white.
Just down the street from the all-black elementary school
7-year-old Linda Brown was forced to attend in 1950, the new
Williams Science and Fine Arts Magnet School opened last fall.
The elementary magnet school – part of a court-ordered
desegregation plan – is designed to entice white students across
the railroad tracks to predominantly black east Topeka.
For one year at least, the plan succeeded.”The fact that it is voluntary makes some of the long bus rides
more palatable,” said Jeff Weaver, the 14,437-student district’s
“We wanted to have our program be as voluntary as possible.”
New computers, science labs and air-conditioned classrooms –
rare in Topeka – lured students to a part of town marked by
poverty, crime and low-income housing.
Of Williams’ 600 students, more than 300 are white.
Half the school’s students come from outside the neighborhood.
“I love the school,” said Nancy Hinrichs, whose second-grade
son, Mitchell, rides a bus about 25 minutes each way.
“They have really taken the extra step and the extra mile. And
even though it’s a big school, they still give individual
The school’s diversity benefits her son, she said.
“There’s not a race issue there, not a money factor. It’s just
not an issue, whereas in your neighborhood school, everybody has to
have Nike Airs.”
Inside Williams Magnet
At Williams Magnet, students don’t have desks.
They sit at tables with Internet-connected computers. Each
classroom has video monitors for announcements.
In an art room, glue, felt-tip markers and water paints occupy a
counter. But 12 nearby computers indicate this isn’t a typical art
In the music room, students compose melodies. They play an
instrument hooked to a keyboard. The computer produces the sheet
Then there are the science labs – the greenhouse, the rain
forest, the desert.
Cactuses, rocks, waterfalls and live lizards fill the desert
“We can talk to kids, show them videos and let them read,” said
Williams Principal Bob Cronkhite. “But when they get sod and potted
plants and let it grow … we’ve made a connection.”
Rubbing his fingers in the dirt, Cronkhite seems pleased.
But he frowns as he leads a visitor into the space lab. It’s an
ordinary-looking classroom with computers – for now.
He closes his eyes and envisions a space shuttle fuselage as a
computer backdrop. He imagines an inflatable sky lab bubble.
He likes what he sees.
“Like everything else, it takes money,” he said.
History students might assume Topeka solved school desegregation
issues long ago.
After all, in Brown vs. the Topeka Board of Education, the U.S.
Supreme Court unanimously struck down the “separate but equal”
In the 1954 decision, justices ruled state-imposed segregated
schools were “inherently unequal” and must be abolished. A year
later, in what was dubbed Brown II, the court said school districts
must eliminate segregation “with all deliberate speed.”
The Rev. Oliver Brown and 12 other black Topeka parents sued
because their children were forced to attend schools miles from
In those days, Topeka had 18 all-white elementary schools and
four all-black elementary schools.
The Browns lived four blocks from all-white Sumner Elementary.
But Linda Brown had to walk seven blocks to catch a bus to
all-black Monroe Elementary.
Joe Douglas Jr., a Topeka School Board member from 1977 to 1985,
endured bus rides as well.
“I lived in a very mixed neighborhood, and we all played
together,” said Douglas, who became Topeka’s first black fire chief
But while Douglas’ white friends jogged to school, he caught a
Still, Topeka was ahead of many cities. Even before Brown,
blacks and whites attended junior high and high school together.
“That doesn’t mean we had equal educational opportunities,”
Blacks and whites had different proms, different sports teams
and a different perspective on history.
At Douglas’ home, a painting depicted blacks fighting in the
Spanish-American War. But his teacher never mentioned black
“It made it appear … that we (black people) never did
1993 Court Order
After 1954, Topeka schools redrew boundaries and let all
children attend neighborhood schools.
However, a dwindling white population coupled with segregated
housing patterns resulted in “racially identifiable” schools. Plus,
the city concentrated low-income housing projects in east Topeka.
It was Brown III – about 40 years after the original – that put
Topeka under a court order.
In 1993, a federal appeals court declared vestiges of segregated
At 13 of 35 Topeka schools, the majority or minority enrollment
was 15 percent above or below the district average. The court
labeled those schools racially identifiable.
The court also found the district had assigned minority staff
School officials imposed boundary changes and enhanced their
voluntary transfer program. They placed English as a Second
Language programs in mostly white schools and moved gifted programs
to the black side of town.
But the plan’s most costly – and controversial – aspect closed
eight small, racially identifiable elementary schools. In their
place, the district built three larger schools, including two east
Voters passed a $ 19.5 million bond issue – Topeka’s first in 35
years – to pay for the new schools.
That Topeka schools – the cradle of desegregation – still
grapple with racial issues surprises some.
“I don’t think it actually surprises people who were here,” said
attorney Richard Jones, who argued Brown III on black plaintiffs’
behalf. “In essence, people who were here had tried to put that
bitter chapter out of their minds and just assumed after a few
years that all of that was over with,” he said.
Before coming to Williams Magnet, Cronkhite was principal at
Belvoir Elementary, one of the schools that closed.
Minorities made up 80 percent of the student body, and nearly
every student qualified for free or reduced-price lunches.
At Williams, the racial mix is about 50-50.
Topeka’s magnet schools guarantee neighborhood students
admission. The district picks the remaining students through a
Topeka schools once had almost 26,000 students, but enrollment
keeps declining as middle-class families flee the city, former
board member Douglas said. “It’s kind of like rats leaving a