Based on extensive archival work, private paper collections, and oral history, this book includes eight of John Kirk’s essays, two of which have never been published before. Together, these essays locate the dramatic events of the crisis within the larger story of the African American struggle for freedom and equality in Arkansas. Examining key episodes in state history from before the New Deal to the present, Kirk covers a wide range of topics that include the historiography of the school crisis; the impact of the New Deal; early African American politics and mass mobilization; race, gender, and the civil rights movement; the role of white liberals in the struggle; and the intersections of race and city planning policy. Kirk unearths many previously neglected individuals, organizations, and episodes, and provides a thought-provoking analytical framework for understanding them.
“An authentic discussion must take place in order to challenge our miseducation and denial of the historical forces that helped to shape the present.”
—From the foreword
“A professor of U.S. history at Royal Holloway, University of London, John A. Kirk has produced a useful collection of essays that complements the already large body of scholarship on the desegregation crisis at Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, and the civil rights movement generally. The text includes a short foreword by Minnijean Brown Trickey, one of the Little Rock Nine, that recognizes Kirk’s status as a historian trained outside the United States: “Often we fail to see our own belief systems with clarity because our society has difficulty seeing itself” (p. x).
With this sensibility Kirk details his research questions on the first pages: “How has the historiography of the Little Rock crisis developed in the past fifty years and where does it stand today? What impact did the New Deal have on the civil rights straggle? In what ways did early black political activism in the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s pave the way for later civil rights protests? How did black activists begin the task of mobilizing the black masses for change? What role did gender play in the civil rights straggle? In what ways did whites seek to oppose racial change? How and why did some whites support it? What larger structural issues, such as city planning, have impacted upon the position of blacks in American politics, society, and the economy?” (pp. xi-xii).
The collection’s eight essays attend directly to these questions. Kirk’s research, based in both manuscript and oral history collections, is meticulously cited in the endnotes. A review of those notes, however, reveals that he sometimes relies too much on secondary sources, particularly in his chapter on gender, which depends heavily on Daisy Bates’s The Long Shadow of Little Rock: A Memoir. This does not diminish the value of Kirk’s work, but it does suggest that, had he conducted more interviews himself, he may have been able to examine how the crisis has been remembered and commemorated in the past half century.
Beyond Little Rock: The Origins and Legacies of the Central High Crisis is not Kirk’s first foray into this topic. In the preface Kirk explains that this new volume is different from his earlier book, Redefining the Color Line: Black Activism in Little Rock, Arkansas, 1940-1970 (Gainesville, Fla., 2002), because of the additional focus on white activism. Though not a new subject of inquiry, it is certainly one that warrants attention.
Kirk’s collection would be a logical choice for a U.S. or African American history survey course, as well as special topics classes on the 1950s or the civil rights movement. The careful attention to the situation in Arkansas would make it popular among Advanced Placement history courses in that state as well.”
—Journal of Southern History, November 2008
“As this masterly collection of essays shows, no one is better equipped than John Kirk to put the Little Rock crisis in the context of the ‘long’ civil rights movement in Arkansas. No one better explores the nuances of divisions within both the black and white communities or better captures the agency of African Americans in the development of race relations in the state.”
—Tony Badger, University of Cambridge, author of New Deal / New South