Last modified: Wednesday, October 3, 2007
Author of new book on Central High crisis to speak at IU
Book features IU professor's famous photo on cover
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Oct. 3, 2007
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- An internationally known scholar of Southern history and race relations, Elizabeth Jacoway, will speak at the Indiana University School of Education about understanding the integration crisis that occurred fifty years ago this fall at Little Rock, Arkansas' Central High School. Her lecture, free and open to the public, is scheduled for Oct. 10 (Wednesday), at 7:00 p.m., in the Wright Education Building Auditorium, 201 N. Rose Ave., Bloomington.
Jacoway, who took part in ceremonies marking the 50th anniversary of the crisis last month in Little Rock, has just published Turn Away Thy Son, a work based upon thirty years of research into the circumstances surrounding the events of September 1957. At that time, Arkansas Gov. Orval Faubus called out the National Guard to prevent nine black students from entering a segregated Central High, prompting U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower to send in Army troops two weeks later to escort the students into the building.
Jacoway's book is the product of both personal experience and scholarly research. She grew up in Little Rock and is related to Virgil Blossom, the superintendent of schools during the crisis. She began her research only after her father gave his blessings. He had just recently retired as a lawyer in Little Rock and had been reluctant to dredge up memories while he still was practicing. In 1976 Jacoway visited museum archives to examine the personal notes of Blossom, Faubus, Eisenhower and African-American community leader Daisy Bates.
The crisis remains vivid for people today, she said, because of the powerful images Americans saw.
"People had just bought televisions, and they were used to watching Leave it to Beaver, and harmless Disney kinds of things," she said. "All of a sudden, in their living rooms, in their own homes, they are seeing the face of hate in an American city being directed at an innocent black child."
The iconic print image, which was runner up for a Pulitzer Prize, came from the camera of Will Counts, then a photographer for the Arkansas Democrat and later a professor at IU's School of Journalism. The famous photo -- that of a young white woman, her mouth skewed with hate, screaming from behind one of the nine students, a stoic black woman -- is on the cover of Jacoway's book.
Jacoway helped Counts connect with Hazel Massery, the white student in the photo, and Elizabeth Eckford, the black student, for a reunion photo and discussion during the 40th anniversary ten years ago. Jacoway said Counts was able to get the incredible photographs others missed because the Arkansas native made efforts to blend in.
"Will was a youngster," she said. "He was just newly back in town ready to be a professional man. He knew the terrain well enough to know that it was not smart to go out there with a suit on and carrying a camera. I'm sure everybody's probably read the story that he went home and put on a plaid shirt someone had given him for Christmas. It made him blend in with crowd, so he was able to get lots of incredible photographs that day that others missed."
Jacoway's book takes a somewhat different view of circumstances. While many have heaped scorn on Faubus over the years, Jacoway said that, based on looking at interviews done 15 years after the crisis, there were more who were responsible.
"I began to get hints from those interviews about the kinds of information that hadn't been suggested anywhere else," she said, and recounted that Blossom really pushed Faubus into his actions. Others looked for political advantage through the circumstances and also forced the governor into taking action.
While her book does not absolve Faubus, it does emphasize other contributing factors to the crisis. She said Faubus, who once attended a neo-Communist college, wasn't a racist in his thinking although he appeared so in his actions.
"He didn't grow up surrounded by the disease of racism, and he didn't understand its strength," she said. "He didn't understand what an evil force that could be. He thought it was one of the pawns that could be pushed around the chessboard of Southern politics."
Media Outlets: The following comments are available as mp3 files on the IU School of Education Web site at http://site.educ.indiana.edu/news/tabid/5663/Default.aspx. Look for the story headline under "Podcasts."
Jacoway says when she first began to look at interviews with key figures in the Central High crisis, she started to sense a more complicated story:
"I began to find out from those interviews kinds of information that hadn't been suggested anywhere else that I had been reading. I began to get hints from those interviews that the role that my kinsman played, Virgil Blossom, in the crisis was not as it had been portrayed. The traditional heroes of the story are Virgil Blossom, Brooks Hays and Harry Ashmore. I began to get glimmers from those interviews that something was amiss in the roles of all three of those characters. And of course the devil in the piece has always been Orval Faubus, and through reading these interviews with lots of people I began to see that the story was much more complicated, and that the blame was spread much more widely than to just be heaped on one man."
Jacoway says Faubus was frustrated by the Eisenhower administration, a judge who didn't help the process, and the Little Rock school board:
"Three times the Justice Department didn't call him back, but finally they sent a representative, Arthur Caldwell, and he basically told Faubus, 'there's nothing we can do.' So Faubus feels he has been called upon by a Republican administration to enforce a judicial decision from the federal level. He's been betrayed by the Federal judge. He's been betrayed by the school board he was trying to help. He has three days. He has ulcers, and he made bad decisions under intense pressure."
The photo taken by Will Counts, later an IU professor, is the most memorable image, Jacoway says:
"Everyone remembers that photo, which is why I put it on the cover of the book, because it flashed immediately around the world, and it became a major liability in America's struggle in the Cold War. I mean, the Communists loved that photograph; it seemed to be proof that Democracy really was not working in America.
Will was a youngster. He was just newly back in town ready to be a professional man. He knew the terrain well enough to know that it was not smart to go out there with a suit on and carrying a camera. I'm sure everybody's probably read the story that he went home and put on a plaid shirt that someone had given him for Christmas. It made him blend in with the crowd, so he was able to get lots of incredible photographs that day that others missed."
Jacoway says a half-century after the crisis, things are still in turmoil in the Little Rock schools:
"The Little Rock School System has been under Federal court supervision for 50 years, and just in the past 4 or 5 months it has been declared unitary in its status, so that it no longer needs federal court supervision. Although the school board has now entered into an agreement where they're willing to -- the Little Rock School Board -- where they're willing to appeal that decision and perhaps go back under federal supervision. But the school situation in Little Rock is, as it is across the country, is very, I think maybe tragic is too hard a word, but it's a very uncomfortable situation, and it is far from what anyone would have hoped would be the state of affairs in Little Rock 50 years later."