Breaking the Silence


The Little Rock Women’s Emergency Committee to Open Our Schools, 1958–1963
Sara Alderman Murphy
Edited by Patrick C. Murphy II
978-1-55728-515-7 (paper)
July 1997


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The Little Rock Central High School integration crisis did not end in1957 when President Eisenhower sent a portion of the first Airborne Division to protect nine black students. The turmoil was entering its second year in 1958 when Arkansas governor Orval Faubus invoked a hastily passed state law to close the high schools rather than obey the federal court orders that would integrate them.

A group of respectable, middle-class white women, faced with the prospect of no schools as well as the further loss of their city’s good name, turned militant. Led by Adolphine Fletcher Teny, a prominent, “old family” civic leader in her seventies, the wome n quickly put together the Women’s Emergency Committee to Open Our Schools (WEC), a highly effective organization that bombarded the city with ads, fliers, and statements challenging Faubus’s action. At peak membership, the WEC mustered two thousand
to their cause. Largely inexperienced in politics when they joined the WEC, these women became articulate, confident promoters of public schools and helped others to understand that those schools must be fully integrated.

Forty years later, Sara Murphy, a key member of the WEC, recounts the rarely told sto1y of these courageous women who formed a resistance movement. With passion and sensitivity, she reconstructs the challenges and triumphs of that battle, which issued from the mutual link Southern white women shared with disfranchised African Americans in their common goal for full citizenship.

Sara Murphy spent most of her life in educational renewal and reform, women’s advocacy, and the civil rights movement. Her many publications include Beyond the Barriers: Successful Educational Interventions in Arkansas. Dr. Murphy founded and coordinated the Little Rock Panel of American Women, a multiethnic, multiracial group of women who presented programs on prejudice reduction from 1963 to 1972. She died in Little Rock on April 15, 1995.

“This is one of the great stories of courage and conviction that have grown out of the American experiment in democracy. Sara Murphy was one of the foot soldiers—and one of the heroes—in the continuing struggle to make the American dream a reality for all of our people.”
—Elizabeth Jacoway, co-editor of Understanding the Little Rock Crisis