Leader Blues

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

FROM THE PUBLISHER >>Recognizing others who were there

Gene Bowman of Jacksonville is one of about 4,500 people who’ve received invitations to a ceremony Sept. 25 commemorating the 50th anniversary of the integration crisis at Central High School in Little Rock.

Bowman, who is a Shelter Insurance agent here, was born in Little Rock and was a sophomore when nine black students attempted to enter the school but were refused entry by the Arkansas National Guard, under orders of Gov. Orval Faubus.
Three weeks later, President Eisenhower sent in the 101st Airborne Division and federalized the National Guard, which escorted the black students into Central.

Bowman was watching history unfold and talks about those days as if they’d happened yesterday.

He hopes white kids and their teachers get a little recognition at the anniversary ceremony for acting honorably in those dark days. Most students wanted to learn and did not taunt the black students, and most teachers disciplined student troublemakers and wouldn’t let the mob outside stop them from doing their jobs.

The following year, when Faubus closed Central, teachers still went to work — and were paid just for showing up — even though classes were empty.

“The sad part is those nine black kids were mistreated by a few people,” Bowman recalled the other day. “But the way it comes out is that everybody was not nice to them. There are statues for the Little Rock Nine, but white kids also deserve statues.”

Bowman arrived on the opening day of the historic school year on Sept. 3 — 50 years ago last Monday — all by himself.
“I rode a motorcycle to class,” he said.

The Little Rock Nine didn’t show up till the following day, when a mob formed outside the school. The troops blocked the black students from getting in, but they did get in on Sept. 23, when federal troops were stationed in the halls and outside the school.

Bowman admits a friend of his did something stupid and probably regretted it for the rest of his life.

“One of my best friends,” he says, “poured soup on Minnijean Brown,” one of the Little Rock Nine. “The Army people carried him out. He was expelled from school and never finished high school. He died a couple of years ago.”

Brown was also expelled after she threw food at the students who had taunted her.

When Faubus and his supporters shut the Little Rock schools down a year later, Bowman scrambled to find a school he could go to.

He signed up for the waiting list at Mabelvale High School, and when enough kids were expelled, he started attending classes there, which was closer to his home than Central.

He car pooled with Fallon Davis, the starting quarterback at Central, which played football even though the school was closed.

Next summer, Bowman took junior algebra since he couldn’t get into that class at Mabelvale. He was glad Central reopened in 1959, and so were his teachers.

“The happiest day was when they had students again,” Bowman said.

A little recognition for them and the students would be nice, he said.

Maybe a statue of a group of white kids alongside the statue of the Little Rock Nine would add a touch of class to the celebration.