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Finding the Lost Year

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What Happened When Little Rock Closed Its Public Schools
Sondra Gordy
978-1-55728-900-1 (cloth)
April 2008

 

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Much has been written about the Little Rock School Crisis of 1957, but very little has been devoted to the following year—the Lost Year, 1958–59—when Little Rock schools were closed to all students, both black and white. Finding the Lost Year is the first book to look at the unresolved elements of the school desegregation crisis and how it turned into a community crisis, when policymakers thwarted desegregation and challenged the creation of a racially integrated community and when competing groups staked out agendas that set Arkansas’s capital on a path that has played out for the past fifty years.

In Little Rock in 1958, 3,665 students were locked out of a free public education. Teachers’ lives were disrupted, but students’ lives were even more confused. Some were able to attend schools outside the city, some left the state, some joined the military, some took correspondence courses, but fully 50 percent of the black students went without any schooling. Drawing on personal interviews with over sixty former teachers and students, black and white, Gordy details the long-term consequences for students affected by events and circumstances over which they had little control.

“Fifty years ago segregationists trying to keep black students out of Little Rock Central High inadvertently broke up one of the country’s greatest football dynasties. . . . Wait a minute. . . . Who said you can’t have a high school football team just because you don’t have a high school? Canceling football, Faubus decreed, would be ‘a cruel and unnecessary blow to the children.’ O.K. then, everyone agreed. Play ball!”
—“Blinded by History,” Sports Illustrated

Sondra Gordy is professor of history at the University of Central Arkansas. She produced a documentary about the topic, entitled The Lost Year. A copy of the DVD can be ordered at www.thelostyear.com.

“Gordy deserves fulsome praise for producing this book. Based on extensive research, including numerous oral interviews and the use of invaluable unpublished primary sources, the work is highly informative and, thanks to its author’s own emphatic spirit, is especially effective in conveying the human costs of the events it describes. Thanks to Gordy’s outstanding scholarship, a year once lost has been found.”
—John William Graves, The Journal of Southern History

“Gordy’s razor-sharp analysis of Little Rock’s ‘Lost Year’ is wonderfully balanced by first-hand accounts of the often devastating effects on those students who could least afford to lose a year of their lives.”
—Grif Stockley, author of Ruled by Race and Blood in Their Eyes

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