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January 16, 2018

Grassroots Arkansas to hold own '57 crisis remembrances

Grassroots Arkansas to hold own ’57 crisis remembrances

A Little Rock group battling the state over control of the city’s schools will host public events this month to…

A Little Rock group battling the state over control of the city’s schools will host public events this month to “honor truth and to honor the legacy” of the nine students who desegregated Central High School nearly 60 years ago, state Sen. Joyce Elliott announced Thursday.

The Grassroots Arkansas events — including one that will conflict with a city-sponsored concert by Mavis Staples benefiting the Little Rock Nine Foundation — will be tied to the theme “Sixty Years: Still Fighting,” said Elliott, D-Little Rock. At least two of the eight surviving members of the Little Rock Nine will attend one of the events, she said.

The city’s remembrance of the 1957 civil rights watershed moment, called “Reflection of Progress,” will culminate Sept. 25 with remarks from all eight surviving members of the Little Rock Nine and former President Bill Clinton. Thousands of people attended the official commemoration a decade ago.

“It is with a heavy heart and a very scrutinizing eye that we look at this word, ‘progress,'” Elliott said. “It is not to say 60 years later we have not made progress. It is to be clear that we aren’t nearly to the point of progress that we need to be.”

Little Rock City Manager Bruce Moore, chairman of the committee planning the city’s commemoration, said in an interview before the announcement that the committee “spent a lot of time” determining the theme, which he said “honors the impact” that the Little Rock Nine have made over six decades.

“But, also, it’s important to talk about progress that has been made and the progress yet to be made,” Moore said, adding: “I think we still as a community and as a city and as a country need to be able to come together and discuss sensitive, critical issues and work together to find viable solutions.”

Three years after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down “separate but equal” schools as unconstitutional, Little Rock Central High School’s integration in September 1957 received worldwide attention.

Arkansas Gov. Orval Faubus deployed the National Guard to prevent black students from entering the high school. The students had their first full day of class when U.S. Army soldiers sent to Little Rock by President Dwight Eisenhower escorted them past mobs that opposed integration.

Elliott said Little Rock schools remain “hyper-segregated” and lamented that the state Board of Education has approved new charter schools in the city after the state-controlled school district recently closed some of its schools.

Grassroots Arkansas’s public events begin at 1 p.m. Sept. 23 on the steps of the state Capitol, where people will be invited to step atop a box and address issues of their choice.

The group at 2:30 p.m. will move into the Old Supreme Court Room at the Capitol for “Honoring the Legacy.” Two members of the Little Rock Nine — Elizabeth Eckford and Thelma Mothershed Wair — are expected to attend the event, Elliott said. Eckford and Wair are the only members who presently live in Little Rock.

“We don’t have a reason to think [others] are going to be there,” Elliott said. “We’ll just be happy to receive them. We were really concentrating on local people who are here.”

Later that evening, the group will organize a 6 p.m. dinner at Union African Methodist Episcopal Church, followed by a 7 p.m. event called “Honoring the Legacy II.”

Staples, a civil rights activist known for hits such as “I’ll Take You There,” is scheduled to perform a concert at the same time in the Robinson Performance Hall. Proceeds will go to the Colorado-based nonprofit Little Rock Nine Foundation, which provides financial support and mentors to students.

Elliott said the Grassroots Arkansas schedule was finalized before its leaders learned that Staples’ concert would be held on the same day at the same time.

“By then, we committed to our schedule,” Elliott said.

Little Rock spokesman Lamor Williams declined to comment about Grassroots Arkansas’ plans.

Grassroots Arkansas, formerly called Citizens Against Taxation Without Representation, has pleaded with the Arkansas Board of Education to relinquish control of Little Rock’s school district.

Arkansas took control of the district in January 2015 when six of the district’s 48 schools were considered to be academically distressed, a state label applied to schools that have chronically low achievement on standardized tests. The number of schools with that label has since been reduced to three.

The elected school board was ousted as part of the state takeover, and Education Commissioner Johnny Key serves in its stead.

Control has been particularly contentious over the past year, when the district closed Franklin Elementary, Woodruff Early Childhood Center and Hamilton Learning Academy, and repurposed Wilson Elementary into an alternative school.

The Board of Education on Thursday approved three charter school proposals for Little Rock. About a dozen of the state’s 24 charter school systems are in Pulaski County.

Metro on 09/15/2017

Source: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Grassroots Arkansas to hold own ’57 crisis remembrances

Grassroots Arkansas to hold own ’57 crisis remembrances


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