1958: Little Rock, Arkansas*

Conley Hurst

THE                       
         year-old echoes
                 of boots shuffling
                 upon the dusty September asphalt.
        false heroism of one coward,
                  Governor Orval Faubus,
                   stuck in the past
                   tires spinning in deep mud.

LOST
         like the proud individual among the mob
                 bearing his message high 
                 like gospel:
                 “RACE MIXING is COMMUNISM.”
         like the boy who joined the military
                 because his school was closed
                 never came back.
         like the valedictorian-to-be-
                 turned-high-school-dropout
                 now attending
                 class in her parent’s cotton field.
         like the devoted teacher
                 who showed up every morning
                 at 8 AM to be greeted by the jeers of
                 dusty, unoccupied desks.

YEAR
         of heavy silence suffocating the halls
                 like sultry September smog
                 upon the city at dawn.
         of thick hatred
                 glazed by time,
                 still sticking.
         of “THIS SCHOOL CLOSED
                 BY ORDER OF
                 THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT”
                 (We all know it was you, Governor.)
         of phony laws,
                 unquestioned resistance,
                 deferred dreams,
                 cut ruts along the long,
                 long road to freedom.

 

* “The Lost Year” refers to the 1958-59 school year in Little Rock, Arkansas, when Governor Orval Faubus closed all the city’s public schools in an effort to block desegregation. It was a reactionary response to the attempted desegregation of Little Rock Central High School by nine black students the previous year. 

 

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