On this dayAug 21, 1959

Arkansas Supreme Court Justice Urges Resistance to Integration And Tells Thousands of Segregationists at Rally to “Do What Needs to Be Done”

On August 21, 1959, Jim Johnson, an Arkansas supreme court justice, told a state-wide segregationist rally at Pine Bluff, Arkansas, to “do what needs to be done” to fight the proposed integration of schools in the Dollarway School District. “When Dollarway falls,” Johnson exhorted the crowd, “Arkansas falls!” The crowd of over a thousand white Arkansas residents cheered.

On August 4, a federal judge ordered that three Black children be admitted to the Dollarway School District when schools reopened in September. The Dollarway School Board appealed the decision. Meanwhile, white residents in the Dollarway District put together a petition with over 1,200 signatures asking Governor Orval Faubus to preserve segregation in the district “with all the force at your command.”

Though Brown v. Board of Education determined in 1954 that school segregation was unconstitutional, for years white residents across Arkansas relied on intimidation and organized political resistance to maintain segregation in the public schools. White residents fought court rulings and held intimidation rallies to terrorize Black families and their children while politicians closed schools to avoid integration. By 1960, only 98 of Arkansas’s 104,000 Black students attended integrated schools.

Justice Jim Johnson was an outspoken segregationist who served as an Arkansas state senator and associate justice on the Arkansas Supreme Court in the 1950s and 1960s. After the Brown decision, Justice Johnson launched a campaign to ensure that defense of segregation remained a central political platform in Arkansas. Justice Johnson formed the White Citizens’ Council of Arkansas, which protested plans to integrate schools in the town of Hoxie, and proposed an amendment to the Arkansas Constitution that would authorize state officials to ignore federal law, which Arkansas voters passed. In 1956, Justice Johnson challenged incumbent Orval Faubus and ran for governor on a segregationist platform with the endorsement of the KKK. Although Justice Johnson lost the election, he leveraged his supporters to pressure Governor Faubus to embrace the segregationist cause. He was instrumental in persuading Governor Faubus to defy federal orders to desegregate Little Rock Central High School in 1957.

The massive resistance to integration by the white community was largely successful in preventing integration of schools, especially in the South. In the five Deep South states, every single one of 1.4 million Black school children attended segregated schools until the fall of 1960. By the start of the 1964-65 school year, less than 3% of the South’s Black children attended school with white students, and in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, and South Carolina that number remained substantially below 1%. In 1967, 13 years after Brown v. Board of Education, a report by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights observed that white violence and intimidation against Black people “continues to be a deterrent to school desegregation.” Learn more about this history by reading EJI’s report, Segregation in America. You can also learn more about segregationist leaders like Justice Johnson, including his wife Virginia Johnson, here.

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