An Associated Press photo distributed nationwide shows African American students attending Fayetteville High School on September 14, four days into the school year.
Four days after the Brown vs. Board of Education decision was handed down on May 17, 1954, the Fayetteville School Board voted to begin integration of the high school at the beginning of the next fall semester. The board voted to start with high school age students and then integrate junior high grades one class per year.
The Sheridan School District announced on the same day that Fayetteville voted that it would integrate as well, however the schoool board rescinded its decision due to protests from white parents and white-owned businesses. In fact, the controversy led Sheridan to relocate black families outside the school district boundaries.
On July 17, the Charleston school board in Sebastian County voted to close its black school and integrate all of its grades. At the time, only 11 African American students attended Charleston's schools. The Charleston District began classes on August 23 but had purposefully tried to keep its integration out of the public eye. Partly as a result of this decision and partly because of Fayetteville's earlier vote to integrate, most national media reported Fayetteville as the first school district to integrate in the Old South.
Fayetteville had provided public education facilities for African American students even prior to its public facilities for white students. A school for African Americans was opened in 1868 as the first public school in Arkansas, and Fayetteville was subsequently identified as School District No. 1 in the state for that reason.
Organized by Ebeneazor Enskia Henderson, the school was built near the intersection of Olive Avenue and Sutton Street. It supported by the American Missionary Association and the Freedmen's Bureau. The school was organized to teach the sons and daughters of African American residents of Fayetteville, most of them recently emancipated during the Civil War. Henderson and his daughter, Clara, taught the school, which subsequently became known as Henderson School.
The students and faculty of Henderson School in 1926.
In 1939, a new school was built on Willow Street for African American students and named Lincoln School. It provided education for students from first grade through eighth grade. For students who wanted to continue their education into high school, the Fayetteville School District made arrangements and allocated a portion of its budget to send those students to the all-black Lincoln High School in Fort Smith.
This arrangement continued until the Brown vs. Board of Education decision, which found that separate facilities were inherently unequal.
Four days later on May 21, the Fayetteville school board took up the question of how to meet the court's ruling. As part of its rationale for integrating, some members of the Fayetteville school board suggested that integrating the high school would save the district money since high school students wouldn't have to be transported to Fort Smith. The year that the district integrated, however, only seven African American students in Fayetteville were of high school age, so actual savings would have been nominal.
Regardless of motive, the board approved the decision.
When the Fayetteville Schools opened in the fall of 1954, seven African American students were enrolled, two juniors and five sophomores. The next year five more African American students entered the high school.
Pictured from left during the 1955-56 school year: top row, seniors Preston Lackey and Peggy Ann Taylor; middle row, juniors Mary M. Blackburn, Roberta Lackey, Elnora Lackey, Kenneth Morgan and Virginia Smith; and lower row, sophomores Loretta Blackburn, James Funkhouse, Pauline Conley, William Lee Hayes and Joseph Manuel.
Joe Manuel, second from left, played alongside white teammates. Other African American students on the team included William Lee Hayes and James Funkhouse.
Although one adult protested outside the high school on the first day of classes, the integration of the high school students went smoothly wherein Fayetteville was concerned. Some school districts scheduled to play football against Fayetteville, however, refused to take the field with Fayetteville's team, which was also integrated from the outset of fall 1954.
Fayetteville followed its graduated approach to integrating the other grades, putting off integration of the elementary schools until 1965, due in part to the upheaval in Arkansas during 1957 and 1958 when Little Rock tried to integrate Central High School.