Leader Blues

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

FROM THE PUBLISHER >>All voices need to be heard now

No one at the Little Rock School District or at Central High School will tell us if the city will honor white students and their teachers who stood up to the bigots outside Central High School when Gov. Faubus tried to keep nine black kids out of their neighborhood school 50 years ago this month.

Nobody has called us back with a comment about the anniversary celebrations later this month, maybe because the public-relations staff is busy doing interviews with out-of-state media. Why bother talking to a suburban newspaper when you have the New York Times and the BBC on the line?

Hundreds of journalists from around the world will cover the anniversary events on Sept. 25. Perhaps they’ll also interview the decent people who didn’t attack and humiliate the Little Rock Nine. The dark side of humanity was on display that September 50 years ago, but good triumphed over bad: The bad guys eventually lost, as they always do.

Several former white students feel slighted that they’re not getting the recognition due them. Last week, Gene Bowman, a Jacksonville insurance agent who was a sophomore during the integration troubles, told us some of the white kids deserve a little recognition, too.

Apparently, some people think Bowman shouldn’t speak out.

A reader complained to the insurance company Bowman works for, presumably because he spoke his mind, but his boss told him he did nothing wrong by talking to us, so Gene is sticking to his position: The students who didn’t act like a bunch of jerks deserve some recognition.

This is not to take anything away from the nine courageous black students who risked their lives going into Central with a mob out in front.

But many white students at Central who reached out to the Little Rock Nine are speaking out in a new book. It’s called “Central in Our Lives: Voices from Little Rock Central High School, 1957-58,” by Ralph Brodie, a Little Rock lawyer who was the student council president, and Marvin Schwartz, a Little Rock freelance writer.

Jane Emery Prather, Class of 1958, says in the book, “Will preconceived notions about Southern racism prevent the (media) from hearing that the majority of white students were, in fact, the unsung heroes who kept their classroom situation calm enough for the school year to proceed?”

Shirley Swaim Stancil, a guidance counselor at Central: “I remember telling my homeroom students regularly, ‘Don’t do anything today that you can’t live with the rest of your life.’”

Coach Wilson Matthews told a varsity team meeting Sept. 23, 1957, at the height of the integration crisis: “Don’t look out the window and worry about what’s going on outside. If I hear any of you getting involved in any of this, you are finished with football. You will answer to me.”

There were plenty of courageous people at Central, from the administration down to the youngest students who befriended the new black kids. Their side of the story is told in “Central in Our Lives,” which we’ll review in our next column.