Fifty years after the Central High integration crisis, more blacks than whites in Pulaski County believed that the crisis had a positive effect on race relations.
In a report on Racial Attitudes in Pulaski County, researchers at the UALR Institute of Government Survey Research Center asked residents what the events at Central High School mean for race relations in their community today.
Are black-white race relations still bearing the impact of what happened that September 50 years ago? And if so, has the impact of the Central High events had a positive or negative effect on the way whites and blacks relate today?
Of all the 1,666 people who participated in the survey, 873 people said that they believe that the events of 1957 continue to have an impact on Pulaski County race relations. These participants were then asked to describe, in their own words, their views on the nature of this impact.
The free response nature of the questions yielded a deep pool of material for researchers to analyze. Overall, these rich and varied data provide a fascinating snapshot of the attitudes of today’s Pulaski County residents toward one of the most infamous episodes in their collective history.
Blacks were more likely to offer positive comments than whites (77 percent of comments from blacks, 61 percent of comments from whites). The researchers suggest that the reason for this may be that “the legacy of Central High has been more keenly felt by black members of the community because it has impacted their everyday lives and hopes for the future more directly.”
Researchers in UALR’s Institute of Government Survey Research Center reported these findings from a set of special questions related to the Central High crisis included in this year’s fourth annual survey of racial attitudes in Pulaski County. The survey also asked if black-white race relations still bear the impact of what happened 50 years ago.
“The free response nature of the questions yielded a deep pool of material for researchers to analyze,” researcher Siobhan T. Bartley says in the report. “Overall, these rich and varied data provide a fascinating snapshot of the attitudes of today’s Pulaski County residents toward one of the most infamous episodes in their collective history.”
The following themes surfaced from comments in the survey (read more about these themes):
- The Central High crisis has been an inspiration: 25 percent blacks / 21 percent whites.
- A 48-year-old black female said, “A lot of those black students persevered, and it’s a good example for young blacks that even though obstacles come your way, you can still achieve what you put your mind to.”
- A 71-year-old white male said, “The black individuals that were involved are seen as positive role models and respected. Anytime we can generate black role models, that is very important.”
- The Central High crisis left a legacy of shame: 22 percent whites / 3 percent blacks.
- “It’s pouring salt in an old wound,” a white male, 65, commented.
- The Central High crisis resulted in new opportunities for blacks: 22 percent blacks / 14 percent whites.
- “Now there are black administrators, mayors, and governors in the U.S.,” said a black male, 45.
- The Central High crisis resulted in an increase in racial interaction: 17 percent blacks / 13 percent whites.
- “When kids go to school together they learn more about each other. You learn to respect each other,” said a black male, 66.
- The Central High crisis is a lesson from history: 13 percent blacks / 13 percent whites.
- “It helps people realize how bad it was and that… we will never make the same mistake again,” said a white female, 26.
- The Central High crisis resulted in no changes in racial relations: 13 percent blacks / 7 percent whites.
- “Racism is still here – it’s just covered up,” said a black female, 46.
- The Central High crisis resulted in a change for the worse: 10 percent whites / seven percent blacks.
- “The black culture is different in a negative way and I don’t want this influencing the white culture,” said a white female, 79.
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