Desegregation Began in Hoxie

June 26, 2003 - Posted at: 6:29 p.m. CDT

HOXIE, Ark. -- You might not know it. But nearly 48 years ago, the Hoxie School Board took a historic stand: desegregating it's schools.

Before the Little Rock Nine, who needed the National Guard to ensure their admission to Central High School, Hoxie became the first school district to desegregate, fighting the first battle in a war of civil rights.

On Thursday, the Arkansas Educational Television Network premieres a documentary film that explores what occured on July 11, 1955. It's the story of a peaceful transition. That is until Life magazine came to town.

For the first time ever in the south, black students were integrated into all-white schools. The headline in Life magazine: "A Morally Right Decision."

"We had 21 little black children and they had to have an education," said Howard Vance, a member of the Hoxie School Board in 1955. "They was five men who realized everybody was a human being. And as the superintendent said, 'It was right in the sight of God.'"

"I had relatives on both sides of the fence," said state representative Don House, who was a student in Hoxie at the time. "But I can assure you, my daddy shamed those who were against those black children having that educational opportunity."

House was just 10 years old at the time, but he remembers that time very well.

"The people of Hoxie responded well," House said. "They realized it was the law. And they determined they were going to follow the law. And even those who did not like the law were even going along with it."

"For a while everything was going smooth," Vance said. "Then after Life magazine came in and it got to be national news, the whole south fell in on us. And it was heck, it was heck."

"Not only did they determine it was the right thing in the sight of God to do, they withstood all sorts of opposition," House said.

And in the face of that opposition, five men stood tall with the Supreme Court's ruling and forevermore, Hoxie, Arkansas, will take it's place in history as the catalyst for desgregating the south.

"I don't think we really realized what we were," Vance said. "We didn't think we were the first, we just thought we were doing what we needed to do and that was it."