UA Little Rock professor to share story of desegregating a Little Rock school during book launch

Laverne before and after

Join Dr. LaVerne Bell-Tolliver, an associate professor of social work at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, for the launch of her highly anticipated novel, “The First Twenty-Five: An Oral History of the Desegregation of Little Rock’s Public Junior High Schools.”

In 1961, Tolliver was the first and only African American student assigned to attend Forest Heights Junior High School until 1963. Her journey as a pre-teen fighting to break racial barriers in her school saw little to no public recognition, along with the stories of the 24 black students who integrated Little Rock’s four remaining public junior high schools.

Instead of letting these stories lie dormant, Tolliver was encouraged to compose a novel to share these experiences, hence the birth of “The First Twenty-Five,” which features in-depth interviews from each of the former students.

“On several occasions, I was asked to tell my story of the desegregation process,” Tolliver said. “At some time, I begin to realize that the story was about more than me or the influence desegregating a school had on my life; that process influenced all of the African American persons who first desegregated the schools. This book, therefore, emerged as a result of the desire, on the part of so many of the first 25 persons who were selected to desegregate the Little Rock public junior high schools, to finally let their voices be heard publicly.”

A panel discussion and book signing featuring members of The First 25 Cohort will kick off the launch of Tolliver’s book. This two-day event will take place Saturday, Feb. 3, at Pyramid Art, Books and Custom Framing, 1001 Wright Ave., and Sunday, Feb. 4, at Bullock Temple Christian Methodist Episcopal Church at 1513 S. Park St. Both events will begin at 2 p.m.

Tolliver and Alvin Terry, who is also one of the 25, will host a discussion and book signing at the UA Little Rock Ottenheimer Library in Suite 202 at 3 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 15.

The book also will be featured at the “Black History Month Black Author’s Fair,” which will take place from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 26, at the ALLPS School of Innovation at 2350 Old Farmington Road in Fayetteville, AR.

Each event is free and open to the public. Copies of “The First Twenty-Five” will be available for purchase at the events for $34.95 or can be purchased online here.

This book launch is sponsored by the UA Little Rock Anderson Institute on Race and Ethnicity, Pyramid Art, Books and Custom Framing, and the National Park Service.

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