My Life and Ferguson, MO.

The Justice Department released a scathing report on its investigation of  The Ferguson Police Department. It clearly reveals the racism that exists in many quarters of our country to this day.

It is not surprising to me as I spent a lot of time around that area of the country as a young man. The revelation that was most telling to me was made back when Ferguson was in the news every day. Ferguson was a Sundown Town prior to 1954 and it would appear for many years after and even though the town is no longer a Sundown Town the concept is still alive. Racial Prejudice still survives in many places and in many guises throughout America and the World.

I grew up in a sundown town in Northwest Arkansas. A sundown town is a town that prior to 1954 had a more or less informal agreement with itself that Blacks and other minorities were not allowed to be in the town after sunset. In my town which was on the Arkansas/Oklahoma border next to the Cherokee reservation, this meant no Negros and no Native Americans (called Indians) could live there or even stay there overnight, not even in a hotel or private home. There were many sundown towns in our part of Arkansas, Missouri, Kansas and lots of other states.

In May of 1954 The U. S. Supreme court ruled in The Topeka Kansas School Board case that separate but equal schooling was not constitutional and no longer legal and this changed everything. But it did not mean that racism would be rooted out in America, even these 50 years later.

I knew nothing of what I am about to tell you until later. Our town was about 30 miles from the biggest town in the area. Fayetteville, home of the University of Arkansas. It was a town of about 15,000 in those days and was about 2% black. We played sports with Fayetteville and I had never seen a black student. This was because The Fayetteville school board paid to have Black Students transported 70 miles south to Ft. Smith to an all Black segregated school. Some of the time they were boarded during the week and some of the time they rode a bus 140 miles daily to go to school. There was an all black grade school in the town and their had been a High School until the 1930’s when it became cheaper to transport the students than house them locally. This was a heavy expense and many in Fayetteville wanted to integrate their school but there were regulations in Arkansas (I think it was a law) preventing it.

Four days after the Supreme Court’s ruling The Fayetteville School Board voted to integrate the High School in the Fall (school was already out or nearly out when the ruling came down). Fayetteville holds the distinction of being the first school to comply with the Supreme Court’s ruling.

When we enrolled in school that Fall, parents and students were told that if our school played Football with Fayetteville we would be playing against an integrated team and our team was given a choice as to whether it would play or not. I did not play football because I could not see without glasses and had only a small interest in what happened. I don’t remember but as I recall we chose to play them. I do know that I had no objection but that at least one prominent member of our team objected rather loudly. I later learned that several of the schools in the conference refused to play. It was at this time that my dad told me about our town being a sundown town and while I don’t remember whether we played Fayetteville that Fall, I went off to college and a became involved in the struggle for Civil Rights for all. Fifty years later almost to the day and the struggle continues as many who should know better have their heads firmly planted in the sand.

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