Documents the first battle to implement the Brown vs. Board of Education school desegregation decision fought in the small, rural town of Hoxie, Arkansas.
How many people know that the first battle to implement the Brown vs Board of Education school desegregation decision was fought in the small, rural town of Hoxie, Arkansas? Or that it became a flashpoint because it offered a peaceful alternative to the bloody Massive Resistance campaigns of the next decade? Hoxie sparked the first deployment of federal agents in support of integration and the first court order overturning state segregation laws. But it also showed that unscrupulous politicians would fan unfounded fears into violent anti-government fury, all too reminiscent of similar movements today.
Director David Appleby had just finished his classic film, At the River I Stand on the tragic weeks leading up to the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Memphis, when he learned of another event only 75 miles away which added an unexpectedly hopeful chapter to the familiar narrative of the Civil Rights Era. In 1955, school superintendant, K.E. Vance and his all-white school board, decided to integrate the Hoxie schools because "it was the law of the land and right in the sight of God." The schools opened without protest and teachers and parents reminisce about the ease with which black and white students mixed. A reporter from Life magazine did a photo essay to show that integration could work in the South.
Ironically, this stirred up local malcontents who sought the help of the White Citizens Councils springing up in response to the Brown decision. The film vividly documents the vitriolic racism and blatant incitement to violence of notorious politicians like George Wallace, Strom Thurmond and Ross Barnett which will shock anyone who didn't live through the Civil Rights struggle. Warning of "mongrelization" and Communism, these demagogues spread the doctrine of Massive Resistance, States Rights and Nullification across the South; some predicted a second Civil War.
White supremacist groups sent a lawyer and "outside agitators" to Hoxie, launching the first white school boycott, calling for the recall of the school board, threatening the superintendant's life and shooting into the houses of black schoolchildren. But the school board refused to be intimidated and the NAACP sent an organizer to encourage black parents to keep their children in school. Now middle-aged, these students still recall their fear but also their determination not to surrender their newly-won rights.
Superintendant Vance enlisted one of the few liberal lawyers in the area who had friends in the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department. The Eisenhower administration was reluctant to enforce the Supreme Court's decision but as the face-off in Hoxie became critical, it felt compelled to assert federal authority. FBI agents were sent to stop the harassment and the federal courts repeatedly upheld the school board's decision. The boycott failed and the schools of Hoxie remain integrated to this day.
The situation in Hoxie proved just a rehearsal for what was to come in nearby Little Rock two years later. By then, defiance to integration had become a litmus test for every Southern politician, including Arkansas' Orville Faubus. But Hoxie: The First Stand shows there could be an alternative when principled people, despite great political and personal risk, stood firm against the racism around them. Hoxie was the "road not taken" for the South; it need not be for us today.
"...remarkable...an incisive corrective to the idea that Southerners universally resisted desegregation... It shakes our perceptions of a region and an era." - Tom Walter, The Memphis Commercial Appeal "...The state of the art in historical journalism." - The Columbia Journalism Review "This fascinating story will show students both the courage and fortitude of the Hoxie residents and the ways the politicians tried to use integration for their own ends. It also demonstrates how what appears to be a small decision can have national repercussions, making it an excellent choice for any secondary class studying the modern civil rights era." - School Library Journal "...an honest and poignant film." - The Arkansas Times "What is particularly useful about this work is not just the filmmaker's prodigious research, which has recovered numerous still photographs and footage that are equally enlightening, but also the interviews done with leading racists of that era, who provide insight into the mechanics of reactionary politics." - The Journal of American History "It is a story well worth telling because it shows that racism, fear and bigotry can be conquered through effective communications and broad-based community efforts." - Adam W. Herbert, President of Indiana University
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