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Formed in 1959 to bolster the segregationist cause in the aftermath of the desegregation of Central High School in Little Rock (Pulaski County), the Committee to Retain Our Segregated Schools (CROSS) represented one of the many political pressure groups active in the city during the late 1950s.
During the so-called Lost Year of 1958–59, Little Rock’s public schools were closed by Governor Orval Faubus, foreshadowing a subtler assault on integrationists and moderates within the school system. The Arkansas General Assembly Extraordinary Session of 1958 subsequently passed Act 10, requiring teachers to sign affidavits listing their membership in all organizations. Act 115 passed by the Regular Session of 1959 called for the dismissal of any teacher who was a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Accordingly, in a rump session of the school board—after the board’s three moderates walked out in protest—forty-four teachers and administrators were fired in an action immediately decried as illegal by moderate groups such as the Women’s Emergency Committee to Open Our Schools (WEC) and the hastily formed Stop This Outrageous Purge (STOP).
In response to a STOP-organized petition campaign aimed at recalling the three segregationists on the school board, CROSS quickly formed in May 1959. It soon began circulating its own counter-recall petitions, claiming that the moderates who had walked out of the board meeting had done so illegally. Founded by the Reverend M. L. Moser Jr. of Little Rock’s Central Missionary Baptist Church, CROSS claimed to have no connections to any other political organizations and to exist solely to support its counter-recall efforts. In fact, the organization closely aligned itself to other segregationists such as the Capital Citizens’ Council (CCC) and the Mothers’ League of Central High School. CROSS also benefited from the tacit support of Faubus, who implicitly endorsed the group’s efforts by labeling STOP “a sinister conspiracy” and by placing the blame for the purge squarely on the shoulders of the moderates who staged a walk-out (essentially echoing CROSS’s basic position on the issue).
With petitions on both sides signed and delivered, all six members of the school board faced recall just five months after the previous election. Both STOP and CROSS publicly claimed the dispute to be centered on the teacher purge, with the larger issues surrounding the Lost Year temporarily pushed into the background. Operating with a war chest of roughly $10,000, CROSS held several rallies in support of recalling the moderates and, in general, maintaining segregation in public schools and promoting states’ rights. Just before the May 25 recall vote, a “Recall All Committee,” of unknown origins, emerged, purchasing advertising space in the Arkansas Democrat in a vain effort to remove the entire board. Instead, the recall election resulted in a stunning defeat for CROSS, with the moderate board members retained by a slight majority and with all of the segregationist board members recalled. In early June 1959, the state board of election commissioners named three moderates to the board to replace the fallen segregationist members. On June 25, the commissioners announced that Little Rock’s four high schools would reopen the following semester, thus bringing the Lost Year to a close. On the losing end of the recall vote, CROSS quickly and quietly disbanded.
CROSS left little, if any, lasting influence. The degree of public support for the organization, and in particular the number of its actual rank-and-file members, remains unclear.
For additional information:Alexander, Henry M. The Little Rock Recall Election. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1960.
Gordy, Sondra. “Teachers of the Lost Year: Little Rock School District, 1958–59.” PhD diss., University of Arkansas at Little Rock, 1996.
Jacoway, Elizabeth. Turn Away Thy Son: Little Rock, the Crisis That Shocked the Nation. New York: Free Press, 2007.
Kirk, John A. Redefining the Color Line: Black Activism in Little Rock, Arkansas, 1940–1970. Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 2002.
“The Little Rock Crisis: A Fiftieth Anniversary Retrospective.” Special issue, Arkansas Historical Quarterly 66 (Summer 2007).
The Lost Year Project. http://www.thelostyear.com/ (accessed July 1, 2007).
Miller, Laura A. Fearless: Irene Gaston Samuel and the Life of a Southern Liberal. Little Rock: Center for Arkansas Studies, University of Arkansas at Little Rock, 2002.
Murphy, Sara. Breaking the Silence: Little Rock’s Women’s Emergency Committee to Open Our Schools, 1958–1963. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1997.
Brent E. RiffelUniversity of Arkansas, Fayetteville
Last Updated 9/21/2007
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