Watching the documentaries Hoxie: The First Stand and Eyes on the Prize, I could not help but notice several similarities and differences in both areas’ attempts at integrating schools. As both Arkansas schools attempted integration in the classrooms, outside agitators brought conflict to an already tense setting. Both the town of Hoxie and the Little Rock Nine were greatly impacted by the media; however, one negatively and one positively.
In Hoxie, Arkansas, a small town with the population of 1,885, the integration of the town’s schools occurred with little resistance. On July 11, 1955, twenty-one black students were integrated in with over approximately eight-hundred white students. In fact, the transition occurred so smoothly that LIFE magazine sent out a reporter to put together a photo essay on the success of the desegregation of the schools, and to prove that integration of schools could work in the South. Upon the publication of the photo essay, on July 25th, the enraged, outside agitators turned on the city of Hoxie. Most believed that if LIFE had never produced the photo essay that Hoxie’s school integration would have succeeded without any problems.
Roy Reed, a former reporter for the Arkansas Gazette and The New York Times, and a former journalism professor at the University of Arkansas, believed that the presence of the press was the downfall for Hoxie. In Hoxie: The First Stand, Reed does not find fault with LIFE for reporting on the story, however, he stated, “If LIFE magazine had not published that uh—that story about the desegregation of schools at Hoxie, chances are Hoxie would uh—would not have been picked as uh—as a target for the segregationists.”
Those community members that were present, both parents and students, reported that before the media, the transition had worked out smoothly. One adult commented, “[t]he school children had a great day. They loved playing with those kids. Those kids knew games they didn’t know and, and it was just wonderful.” One of children tells her story as if color was not an issue between the children: “The, uh, black kids and the white kids got along fine. We were all just…kids…we played jump rope, hop scotch…typical things that kids played then…and just generally ran around the field together. You know ran up and down the yard holding hands or, you know, just different things that kids did at, you know, that age.”
Transitioning to the Little Rock Nine, the media served as a spotlight for injustice and discrimination. Jet magazine had just stirred the nation with their graphic photo of brutally murdered, fourteen-year-old Emmett Till. The blockade of integration in Little Rock was just another story for Americans to get behind. With the power of the press and the outcry from American citizens, President Eisenhower was forced to intervene and ensure the safety and legal rights of the nine black children integrating at Central High School.
It is interesting to see how the media can affect both positively and negatively the same situation, in the same area, during the same time period. While the press accidentally hindered the progress in Hoxie, it lent a helpful hand in furthering civil rights in Little Rock.