The North Little Rock High School Desegregation Crisis (1957)

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Arkansas counties
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The North Little Rock High School Desegregation Crisis created the North Little Rock Six, a group of six African American students who attempted to desegregate North Little Rock High School on September 9, 1957. This desegregation event was overshadowed by the nationally prominent effort to desegregate Little Rock’s Central High School.

In 1955, the North Little Rock School Board voted to begin desegregating classes in the twelfth grade. Seven seniors from the all-Black Scipio Jones High School registered to attend North Little Rock High School for the 1957-1958 school year, but only six students attempted to enroll. They would become the North Little Rock Six: Richard Lindsay, Gerald Persons, Harold Smith, Eugene Hall, Frank Henderson, and William Henderson.

On September 9, 1957, the six students were accompanied by four African American ministers—Fred D. Gipson, Daniel J. Webster, John H. Gipson, and Walter B. Banks—to North Little Rock High School on the first day of classes. Two white students approached the six Black students at the school’s front steps and blocked them from entering the school. They were supported by a much larger crowd of white students opposed to desegregation, including future Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Wayne Jones, who was a sophomore at North Little Rock High School at the time.

The white students pushed and shoved the North Little Rock Six away from the school steps. Principal George Miller and Superintendent F. Bruce Wright came out of the school and asked the six black students to go inside to talk. The six students attempted to climb the stairs again and reached the front door, but this time, twenty to thirty white students blocked the entrance. Wright told the white students to move and threatened them with expulsion for the rest of the year if they refused. The white students still refused to move.

Wright instructed the six black students to meet him at the 28th and Popular Streets school administration building for their conference. Wright advised the students to enroll in Scipio Johns High School, stating, “I don’t think integration will work at this time, judging from the crowd’s temperament.” As a result, the desegregation attempt failed.

Unlike Little Rock’s Central High School, which was then under a federal court order to begin desegregating, the North Little Rock School Board was not subject to federal intervention, and the six students had no connection to the NAACP. Daisy Bates, who led the effort to desegregate Central High School, had no knowledge of the North Little Rock Six’s efforts to desegregate the high school in the Little Rock suburb. By September 23, 1957, the six students had quietly enrolled at all-Black Scipio Jones High School.

The North Little Rock School District was finally desegregated on September 3, 1964, when eight African American students were admitted to the all-white Clendenin and Riverside elementary schools. The North Little Rock Six received recognition on September 9, 2007, when they were honored at a ceremony hosted by the city of North Little Rock and the North Little Rock-based nonprofit STAND Foundation. On July 16, 2022, the Scipio A. Jones High School’s National Alumni Association honored the North Little Rock Six.