HOXIE, Ark. – It is almost a crime for one not to be aware of the events which took place in the Hoxie School District in 1955.
The unfolding milestones would be so influential, several members of the community have made it a personal mission to see a civil rights museum built in Hoxie. This mission is one step closer to reality, with the announcement Saturday by Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Fran Cavenaugh that Hoxie School District has agreed to host the placement of a recreation of the Hoxie Colored School. It will serve as a museum to highlight the events which have come to be known as Hoxie: The First Stand.
“Our hopes are as we progress to add additional classrooms off the back,” Cavenaugh said. “We want this to be a place where you truly learn about civil rights history.”
A reception was held Saturday at The Studio on Main Street in Walnut Ridge announcing the school’s agreeing to host the museum. Several students from the storied Hoxie integration years were present.
In June, 1955, the Hoxie School Board voted to integrate Hoxie High School with Hoxie Colored School. The integration happened the following month. The school board members had several reasons to make this decision, most notably including the May, 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education ruling by the Supreme Court that segregation was unconstitutional. Despite the ruling, many schools in the South took their time integrating. Hoxie made the first stand, integrating without the need for the National Guard or without a huge incident.
At Saturday’s event, the first black graduate of Hoxie School District, Ethel Tomkins, spoke to the gathering about how she had always felt at home in Lawrence County and in Hoxie.
“I’ve never felt any tension,” Tomkins said. “I’ve never felt out of place here. I’ve always been part of the community like everybody else but I’ve always said, ‘If you don’t want me around, you have to knock me in the head because I don’t pay no mind to not being wanted.'”
Growing up in the middle of the Civil Rights Era, Jim Crow-laws and a period of integration, Tomkins said the experience taught her to be more tolerant. While traveling to other schools with Hoxie for choir, Tomkins said some schools, not yet integrated, would require black children to sit away from the white students. The solidarity of Hoxie shined through in these settings and Tomkins said Hoxie students would sit with her, away from the white children at the school, when such a requirement was made. She also recalled how both choir and another sports team each voted to let black students continue to be part of the group activities. Some schools forfeited sports games instead of playing against an integrated team.
“There’s always going to be some people that are going to be bad or are just not going to do right,” Tomkins said.
Melina Lacefield-Smith and Peggy Hatfield-Hinshaw were both the best of friends in school and in 1955, were 4th graders at Hoxie School District. Each vividly remembers when integration happened and although it went smoothly, there were still examples of less-than-savory behavior.
“We both lived close to everybody (from the Hoxie Colored School),” Lacefield-Smith said. “We enjoyed them coming to our school. I walked with them and played with them at school. I remember sitting in the class in the 4th grade and parents coming in to get their kids for that reason – they didn’t want them going to school there and I thought, ‘What are they doing? When’s momma going to come get me?’ We didn’t have a problem. It was the adults who had the problem.”
But only some of the adults had the issues, Hatfield-Hinshaw said. Most did not have an issue with integration.
“I could see the (Hoxie Colored) school from my house,” Hatfield-Hinshaw said. “So I knew the kids, some of them. They come to the house and played. It was kids that we knew. It was a small town.”
With so many unique stories coming from the time, the event, and Hoxie, those involved with Hoxie: The First Stand want the museum to be constructed to serve as a reminder for what happened but also, an educational opportunity so more generations can learn. With the positivity surrounding integration in Hoxie, those with an affinity for history like Lloyd Clark, a Lawrence County Justice of the Peace, have found it natural to support the movement.
“This museum is an important thing,” Clark said. “We need to teach people we can get along if the guy upstairs guides us.”
Cavenaugh said plans have been drawn up for the building and they know the approximate cost. She said there will be fundraising efforts including dinners, cookbooks, selling Hoxie The First Stand items and searching for grants. but she, and the chamber, are both determined to see the museum’s construction. The replica school is estimated to cost $300,000.
“It’s 61 years since integration happened,” Cavenaugh said. “It’s time this history was known.”