Column: "The Sports Trail": Education reform bought our family's first television

Friday, August 29, 2003

by David McNeal

This story is about education reform in Arkansas in the 1950s and how then-Gov. Orval Faubus bought my family our first television.

Education reform is a hot topic in Arkansas right now, what with Gov. Mike Huckabee and the Arkansas Legislature mandated by the courts to make education equitable for all students.

Segregation was mandated back when Faubus was governor, but he wasn't keen on the idea, like a lot of other southern folks at that time. But on Sept. 2, 1957, when the so-called Little Rock Nine tried to enter Central High School, Faubus took it up another level ---- he called out the Arkansas National Guard, who arrived on Wednesday, Sept. 4.

My father, a Chief Warrant Officer-4, had stayed with the National Guard after World War II and had moved up to headquarters battery in Fort Smith by the time Faubus called the Guard in to prevent black students from entering Central High School.

By calling the Guard up, Faubus increased the incomes of all those involved, including my Dad. But his schedule didn't change. He kept going to the same office every day, cutting the orders and keeping records as Warrant Officers do, then headed for home each evening.

Of course, then-President Dwight D. Eisenhower wasn't going to let Faubus or anyone else defy the Federal government's mandate, so he called up the 101st Airborne to protect the students.

Meanwhile, Dad still went to work the same as always.

The State of Arkansas made appeals, which were finally reversed on Sept. 12, 1958, by the United States Supreme Court, who confirmed that the schools must integrate.

But in the meantime President Eisenhower had called off the 101st and nationalized the Arkansas Guard, with 125 of the Federalized Guardsmen protecting the first black graduate of Central High that May of 1958.

Now Dad was earning his regular pay, plus the Federal pay, and still hadn't gotten near Little Rock or the controversy going on there.

I wasn't quite a teenager, but I clearly remember him coming home one historic payday and saying, "Come on kids. We're going to town. Governor Faubus has bought us a television."

What a thrill! Who says education reform has to be all bad? As we sat and watched the repairman set up the big antennae outside, then run the wires inside to the shiny black-and-white set, all we could think of was the new gadget that had entered our lives, and not the controversy.

Now the folks of Arkansas are facing the possibility of some hefty taxes, or maybe loss of small, rural schools, in order to meet the current education reform requirements.

It doesn't look like anyone will be getting a new television this time, but you can bet it will cost us taxpayers when the final plan is unveiled. Let's just hope it really benefits the kids.

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