QUESTIONING 'PROGRESS': State Sen. Joyce Elliott and others with Grassroots Arkansas outside the state Department of Education. BRIAN CHILSON

On Thursday, a group calling itself Grassroots Arkansas held a press conference in front of the Arkansas Department of Education to announce a schedule of events to mark the 60th anniversary of the Central High desegregation crisis on September 22 and 23.

The group is not affiliated with the official “Reflections of Progress” commemoration of the 60th anniversary. However, the group expects two of the Little Rock Nine — Elizabeth Eckford and Thelma Mothershed-Wair — will be joining the group for a “movement assembly” event at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday the 23rd at the state Capitol in the Old Supreme Court Chamber.


As the group spoke, the state Board of Education was meeting inside the Education Department building. On the board’s agenda this afternoon: consideration of the Charter Authorizing Panel’s recent decisions to allow new charter schools to open up in Little Rock.

State Sen. Joyce Elliott (D-Little Rock) told reporters that the group wanted to take a critical look at the progress that’s been made in Little Rock schools since 1957. “It is with a heavy heart … that we look at this word ‘progress,'” she said. “It is not to say that sixty 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 …


“In 1957, we had schools on the way to being taken over, and … here we are sixty years later and the Little Rock School District is under state control. … Sixty years later, there are schools all over this district that are hyper-segregated. We have to think about what we mean by ‘progress’ in that kind of setting.”

Here’s the schedule of events posted on the group’s Facebook page, along with a statement:


EVENT SCHEDULE for Saturday, September 23rd:

Speaker’s Corner – 1:00-2:00pm
Front Steps of AR State Capitol

Honoring the Legacy I 2:30pm
AR State Capitol, Old Supreme Court Room (South End of 2nd Floor)

Movement Assembly on Education – 3:00-5:30pm
AR State Capitol, Old Supreme Court Room (South End of 2nd Floor)

Dinner 6:00pm
Union AME Church (1825 Pulaski Street)

Honoring the Legacy II 7:00-8:00pm
Union AME Church (1825 Pulaski Street)

Sixty years ago, Governor Orval Faubus dispatched the Arkansas National Guard to Little Rock Central High School to block the entrance of the following, later known as the Little Rock Nine, African American students: (1) Melba Pattillo Beals, (2) Minniejean Brown, (3) Elizabeth Eckford, (4) Ernest Green, (5) Gloria Ray Karlmark, (6) Carlotta Walls LaNier, (7) Thelma Mothershed, (8) Terrence Roberts, and (9) Jefferson Thomas. President Dwight Eisenhower intervened and sent the 101st Airborne Division of the United States Army to escort the students inside Central High School.

As we reflect on progress today, we are sadly reminded that the Little Rock School District currently does not have an elected representative school board. Alternatively, the acting school board is the Commissioner of the Arkansas Department of Education, Johnny Key, who was appointed by Governor Asa Hutchinson. In 1957, Democratic Governor Orval Faubus controlled the Little Rock School District. In 2017, sixty years since the Crisis at Little Rock Central, Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson and Commissioner Johnny Key control the Little Rock School District, the largest school district in the state and majority African American.

We must never be fooled by the word “progress.” Instead we should hold it to the highest standards of accountability, context, perspective, and scrutiny. Moving forward, our aims and goals are clear: to immediately return local control to the people and community of the Little Rock School District; to hold leaders accountable at every turn; to oppose state controlled school districts, school closures, and the expansion of privately owned charter schools that compete for public school dollars; and to create a world-class school district.

Sixty years later, there is still work to be done and we are still fighting.