Nearly 500 people attended a recent presentation of “Hoxie 21” – the 1955 school desegregation in Hoxie, AR – held in the Randolph County Development Center on the campus of Black River Technical College in Pocahontas.
The event, sponsored by the BRTC Foundation SEAS (Special Events and Activities Support) Program in collaboration with the Eddie Mae Herron Center and Hill Foundation, Inc., provided an opportunity for the community and area students to learn about the landmark story of the Hoxie, AR, school system being the first “challenged” desegregation in Arkansas, two years prior to the Little Rock Central High integration crisis. Included in the audience were students from Hoxie, Hillcrest and Maynard schools.
Sharing the Hoxie 21 story were Fayth Hill Washington, Ethel Tompkins and Yvonne Barksdale Taylor, all African American students who were among the first 25 to integrate into the Hoxie school in 1955; Gene Vance, son of the late Howard Vance who was president of the Hoxie School Board when they unanimously voted to integrate, and also a fourth grade student at the time; and Jim Barksdale, who provided a second generation account as both the son of a Hoxie 21 student and a former Hoxie student.
Vance talked about how one year after the United States Supreme Court ordered school desegregation with “all deliberate speed,” his father, along with the other members of the Hoxie School Board, unanimously made the decision to desegregate Hoxie’s schools and integrate School District 46. Several legal precedents were set by this action, and it was the first time the United States Department of Justice intervened on behalf of the historical Brown v. Board of Education, Topeka, KS, case in support of integration. Vance expressed how this action affected not only the school and its students, but also the community as a whole. He cited three reasons for their decision: “It was right in the sight of God” being the first; second, it complied with the Supreme Court Ruling; and third, it was cheaper and more economical for the school system.
Washington talked about the unwavering courage of the small African American community and how the diversity successfully withstood the challenges they faced. She referred to the parents and family members as the “Dreamers” who wanted so desperately for their children to have equal opportunities and a better education. “Hoxie was a small town that fostered their basic human spirit and instincts to weather the storm against the segregationists to maintain law and harmony in the community,” Washington noted. She also directly addressed the student groups in attendance, asking if they knew about the Jim Crow Laws or if they had even heard of Jim Crow. She suggested that be the first place they start when learning about desegregation.
“The goal of the Foundation is to educate,” said Washington. “It is our hope that the Hoxie 21 story will be passed on for generations to come.” She also shared plans for a monument to be constructed as a memorial to the Hoxie 21.
“We were very blessed to have this distinguished panel come to our campus to speak about this historical and nationally recognized event,” said Dina Hufstedler, BRTC’s Director of Community Development and event coordinator. “As Fayth mentioned, ‘this is not just about African American History, it’s about American History,’ and we were glad to provide an opportunity for this story to be shared.”