TIME Civil Rights

What Orval Hath Wrought

092357 cover
The Sept. 23, 1957, cover of TIME Don Cravens for TIME

From the Sept. 23, 1957, issue of TIME

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Orval Faubus entered his second-floor study bent double, hands clutching his abdomen. He greeted a visitor perfunctorily, collapsed into a contour chair, groaning in the agony of too much sweet corn and too many sweet potatoes the night before. His wife popped anxiously into the room, carrying a tray; Faubus peered distastefully at the stewed chicken and rice. “Put that rice in a bowl,” snapped he, “so I can put some milk on it.” But this, protested Alta Faubus, was what the doctor had ordered. “I don’t care!” cried Faubus. “I won’t eat it! If you won’t get me a bowl of rice and milk, I’ll go get it myself.” Alta Faubus shrugged, left, returned with the rice and milk. Faubus wolfed it down, milk dribbling down his chin. Then Orval Eugene Faubus, 36th governor of Arkansas, turned to his guest and belched gustily.

At that moment, one day last week, the governor of Arkansas had good reason to be suffering from, as he put it, a “sore stomach.” Arkansas National Guardsmen were deployed around his salmon-pink executive mansion, warding off all. Other militiamen surrounded Little Rock’s Central High School, ready to defend it to the death against Negro children trying to attend classes. And even as Governor Faubus defied his doctor’s orders, the shock waves of his defiance of the U.S. Government crashed through the South, the nation and the world.

By calling out the National Guard against school integration in Little Rock (TIME, Sept. 16), Faubus meant only to further his personal political ambitions. But the slightly sophisticated hillbilly from near Greasy Creek had, in fact, set off a chain reaction that quickly went beyond his control; his manufactured crisis in Little Rock brought the reality of crisis to other Southern cities, aroused the North as rarely before, turned askew the nation’s political picture, and placed the U.S. on the moral defensive.

Worse Than Cancer. In Faubus’ own state, the impact of his defiance was immediate and sharp. At North Little Rock (pop. 50,000), officials had been so confident of peaceful school integration that they were going ahead without even a court order. With Faubus whipping up emotions across the muddy Arkansas River, the North Little Rock people realized that they were in trouble. Integration was suspended (said a school board member: “We don’t want the Guard over here”), and responsible Negro leaders joined with white in asking Negro parents to keep their children away.

Other Negroes, angered to recklessness by the Faubus action, egged the parents on. Result: six Negro pupils tried to go to school. They ran up against a pack of pool-hall bums led by a beefy, red-faced man who stood with arms folded across his chest and grandly proclaimed: “They shall not pass.” Pushed and shoved away, the Negroes did not pass.

One hundred miles to the northwest, little Ozark (pop. 1,757), where racial conflict was unknown, had integrated its high school without a hint of protest. But the sparks from Little Rock soon landed and flared: a Negro girl was hit with a clothes hanger; a boy was struck in the back with a book—and a white motorist tried to run down two Negro children as they walked home from school. Integration was suspended, and Miss Elizabeth Burrow, half owner of the weekly Ozark Spectator, dying of throat cancer, wrote to her townspeople: “Here’s a malignancy worse than my cancer, and I wouldn’t swap with you.”

Spreading Tension. What Orval Faubus wrought for Arkansas, he wrought for the South. Said the Knoxville, Tenn. News-Sentinel of Orval’s stand: “This official act has lent an air of respectability and social approval to mob action.” Violence exploded in Nashville (see below), and responsible officials attributed it directly to the impact of the news from Little Rock. In Charlotte, N.C., Dorothy Counts, Negro high school girl who had faced the jeers of a crowd with dignity and courage the week before, finally surrendered to heightened passion, withdrew from school.

In Louisville, a segregationist composed a battle hymn: “Stand firmly by your cannon/Let ball and grapeshot fly/And trust in God and Faubus/But keep your powder dry.” In Alabama four potential candidates for governor set a political pattern for the South, each desperately trying to outdo the others in praise of Faubus. One wired Faubus his congratulations. Another promised to back Faubus “at all costs.” A third offered to go to jail to prevent integration. The fourth topped them all: he was willing to die for segregation.

Fury in the North. The North, which has its own segregation faults, watched and smoldered with resentment. A Long Island summer-theater audience heard South Pacific Heroine Nellie Forbush say she was from Little Rock, stopped the performance with three minutes of furious boos and hisses. A drugstore clerk in Philadelphia admitted to human dilemma: “I don’t like Negroes and God knows I’d hate to have to live with them—but I can’t help thinking how awful it would be if my little girls had to go through a mob to be cursed and spit upon.” Said a Negro bartender in Dynamite Jackson’s Los Angeles saloon: “A lot of whites I know never got excited about this segregation thing in the past. Now they’re red-hot under the collar.”

Politically, Orval Faubus stabbed at the heart of his own Democratic Party. During the 85th Congress, Texans Lyndon Johnson and Sam Rayburn had labored tirelessly, skillfully and successfully to avoid a ruinous party blowup over civil rights. They had even contrived to put a Democratic stamp of sorts on civil rights legislation. Now Faubus had undone them—and Democratic politicians, in their acute embarrassment, could only pretend that Faubus did not exist. Lyndon Johnson became unavailable for comment. Grunted old Sam Rayburn, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives longer than any other man in history: “I’m not making any comment about segregation at all, my friend, one way or another. It’s not my problem.”

Sojourning in London, Arkansas’ Democratic Senator J. William Fulbright, a segregationist by the record in spite of a long career as a self-described liberal, said he just didn’i know enough about the Arkansas situation to comment. Iowa’s Democratic Governor Herschel Loveless drew a formal N.A.A.C.P. protest for his evasion (“I have enough troubles of my own without getting mixed up in this”). Democratic National Chairman Paul Butler of Indiana refused to “pass judgment” on Faubus. At week’s end the Democratic Advisory Committee, including Members Harry Truman and Adlai Stevenson, finally got around to issuing a statement blaming Republican Dwight Eisenhower for the whole Arkansas mess.

Assaying the political effects, the New York Times said that Orval Faubus had knotted the “civil rights albatross firmly around the neck of the entire Democratic Party.” In San Francisco, William Stratton. executive director of the Booker T. Washington Community Center, recalled that Faubus, as a Democratic “liberal,” had been elected with Negro support. “Because of that,” said Stratton, “we must act to analyze the attitudes of those running for office. We must do as much as we can to make sure that a Faubus doesn’t exist in this area. It’s foolish to be blindly tied to a party which has no concern for your welfare.”

Joy in Budapest. In Little Rock, Nashville and Charlotte, the racist crowds branded those who opposed them as proCommunist. But it was, in fact, Orval Faubus and his followers who gave aid and comfort to Communism. Headlined Beirut’s Communist daily AL-Shara: AMERICA VERGES ON CIVIL REBELLION. Sneered Italy’s Communist L’Unità: “It is hard to imagine a country where the new scholastic year opens in an atmosphere other than serene, where the thought of desks, notebooks and blackboards is mingled with visions of rifles, tear gas, spring knives and clubs . . . Such a country does, however, exist, and it bears the high-sounding name of ‘United States of America.’ ” In Budapest, Hungary’s ruthless Premier Janos Kadar fairly kicked his heels in joy. Cried he: “Those who tolerate that a people should be persecuted because of the color of their skin have no right to preach human liberty and human rights.” In the United Nations, after a dark-skinned Ceylonese delegate denounced Soviet intervention in Hungary, Bulgaria’s Peter Voutov retorted: “Something worse could happen to you if you go to Little Rock.”

In neutral and non-Communist countries (most of them with their own race problems), the U.N. debate on the sacking of Hungary was drowned out by the news from Little Rock. Said the Times of Indonesia: “Americans must ask themselves if a Faubus is not a greater traitor to their country than a small fry caught selling atomic data to foreign powers, and whether Governor Faubus should not be hauled before the Un-American Activities Committee for alienating half the world from the U.S.” In Japan, a conservative-minded citizen asked quietly: “If Americans regard Negroes as inferior, how do they really regard Asians?” Millions of brown-skinned Asians, unaware of great U.S. constitutional issues, saw only dark-skinned American children being held away from school by the rifles of white American soldiers.

Hell for Sartain. All this—trouble in his own state, trouble in the South, trouble in the U.S. and trouble in the world—Orval Faubus had wrought. Why? The answers lie deep within a politician who fought his way out of a peckerwood background and a backwoods wilderness—and never wants to return.

Arkansas, part delta and part mountain, part magnolia and part moonshine, where a horse is a “critter” and a heifer is a “cow brute,” is given to such place names as Loafer’s Glory, Bug Tussle, Hell for Sartain, Hog Scald, Nellie’s Apron—and, perhaps most remote of them all, Greasy Creek in the Ozark forests of the northwest, where Orval Faubus was born 47 years ago in a candlelighted cabin.

There the night fog wisps early along the creek valley, and the silence is broken only by the howl of timber wolves. There Orval Faubus, prematurely born and weighing only 4 Ibs., “growed like a weed” in the hardest of all soil. There Orval learned about politics from his father, “Uncle Sam” Faubus, a sort of mountain Populist. Last week in the Ozark woods, Uncle Sam, crippled from arthritis but still scratching a living from his hillside farm, mused on his son’s fame. “Little Orval,” said J. Sam Faubus, “he was different to most boys. Kids like to get into mischief, but all he ever did was read books. He never done anything if he couldn’t do it perfectly. You’d never find a weed in his row of corn.”

One Thing He Hated. Orval Faubus did not learn about segregation in the Ozarks. “He never saw a Negro until he was a grown lad,” said Uncle Sam. “Then he went away North to follow the strawberry crop when he was about 18. We only had one Negro family in Madison County in those days, and they lived way down on the crick where nobody ever saw ‘em. I told Orval not to hate anybody of any race. I told him people would think he was narrow-minded and would look down on him.” Then Old Sam provided a key to the understanding of Orval Faubus: “That’s one thing Orval always hated—to be looked down on.”

Orval spent a lifetime clawing his way up so that he would not be looked down on. He found what he wanted in politics. For years he bounced from one meager job to another: country schoolteacher, itinerant farm hand, lumberjack. He ran for local offices (circuit clerk and recorder) and won, later wangled an appointment as postmaster. In 1948 he helped throw Madison County to liberal Sid McMath, who was elected governor. McMath named him to the nonsalary state highway commission, later responded to a Faubus plea (“I’m broke. I need a payin’ job”) by making him an administrative assistant at $5,000 a year. Orval Faubus moved to Little Rock—and (to him) the big time.

A Scheme for Security. Elected governor on a fluke in 1954, re-elected last year, Orval Faubus was right where he wanted to be. He was the chief executive of a sovereign state; he hobnobbed with political bigwigs; he was, at last, looked up to. Orval Faubus planned to stay in Little Rock. Politics had given him position and respectability; he had nothing to go back to. But how would he hang on? Arkansas has a strong tradition against a third term for a governor. Moreover, his popularity was slipping: he had raised taxes, alienated his liberal followers by granting rate increases to railroads and utilities. He needed new support and he needed it badly. His solution: to win votes in conservative eastern Arkansas by setting himself up as a segregationist hero.

Last Aug. 20, Orval Faubus set his plan in motion: he called Deputy Attorney General William Rogers in Washington, asked what the U.S. Government would do to prevent violence in Little Rock. Rogers said that it was primarily a matter for local law enforcement, but volunteered to send Arthur Caldwell, head of the Justice Department’s civil rights section, to Little Rock. Caldwell, a native Arkansan, explained the law, outlined federal injunctive powers, asked Faubus why he thought there might be violence in Little Rock. Faubus replied that his evidence was “too vague and indefinite to be of any use to a law-enforcement agency.” Caldwell returned to Washington convinced that Orval Faubus meant to play politics with Little Rock integration.

“I’m Already Committed.” Faubus lost no time playing politics: the very next day he went into a state court, testified that integration would mean bloodshed in Little Rock, won an injunction against it—which was promptly overruled by U.S. District Judge Ronald Davies. Then, the Sunday before Little Rock schools were to open, word came to adopted Arkansan Winthrop Rockefeller, chairman of the highly successful Arkansas Industrial Development Commission, that Faubus was going to call out the National Guard to stop integration.

Rockefeller rushed to the executive mansion, pleaded against the move for more than two hours, argued that it would give the state a bad name with industry. It was no use. A close Rockefeller associate quotes Faubus as saying: “I’m sorry, but I’m already committed. I’m going to run for a third term, and if I don’t do this, Jim Johnson and Bruce Bennett [segregationists who are his probable opponents for governor next year] will tear me to shreds.” That was it: at 9 o’clock on the eve of school opening, Arkansas National Guard troops clanked into Little Rock. An hour later Orval Faubus appeared on television, explained that he had called out the militia to prevent violence.

Neither then nor thereafter did Governor Faubus consult with the man charged by the Arkansas constitution with keeping law and order in Little Rock: Mayor Woodrow Wilson Mann.”There was no indication of unrest whatever,” says Mann. “We had no reason to believe there would be violence.” For one thing, Little Rock had worked out for itself a seven-year integration plan, carefully picking and choosing among the Negro students most likely to do well, so as to minimize the possibility of trouble in a city with better-than-average race relationships. Even so, to be on the safe side, Mann and his 175-man police force had made carefully detailed plans to keep order. Orval Faubus never gave the mayor’s plans a chance—and Woodrow Wilson Mann, who had twice supported Faubus for governor, is eloquent in his anger. Says he of Faubus: “His words spell sedition, his defiance rebellion. His words and actions echo another tragic period in our history when irresponsible men plunged this nation into a Civil War.”

Order from the Court. Orval Faubus claimed to be unworried by Mayor Mann’s criticism. He was holed up in his executive mansion, protected from intrusion by the National Guard, enjoying congratulatory telegrams, listening to piped music, watching Kinescopes of himself on television (he liked them), preparing to reap new publicity benefits.

Even as Orval was basking in his new fame, pressures against him were building up. Across town from the executive mansion, U.S. District Judge Davies was reading a 400-page report prepared for him by the FBI, which had 50 agents comb the Little Rock situation. The report showed not a shred of evidence supporting Faubus’ claim that Little Rock had been ripe for violence. Example: where Faubus had said Little Rock stores were selling out of knives and pistols (“mostly to Negro youths”), the FBI agents checked 100 shops, found that weapon sales had actually been below normal. The report read, Judge Davies issued a summons commanding Faubus to appear in his court this week to show cause why an injunction should not be issued against him.

U.S. Marshal Beal Kidd, an old friend of Faubus, passed through the National Guard lines and handed Faubus the summons on the executive lawn. The summons genuinely worried Faubus: the man who hated to be looked down upon began to fret about the trouble his new prominence might bring him.

More Than He Could Handle. Faubus had other qualms. The political effect of his stand was not quite what he had expected. His old boss, Sid McMath, was busy rounding up liberals to denounce what Orval had wrought. Little Rock’s respected Congressman Brooks Hays, top Baptist layman (president of the Southern Baptist Convention), checked with the city’s leading citizens, found them shocked and ashamed.

Hays started to move: first he called the White House, talked to his old congressional friend, Presidential Assistant Sherman Adams. He suggested that Governor Faubus and President Eisenhower meet. Hays himself set forth three conditions: 1) the request for a meeting would have to come from Faubus, 2) Faubus would have to be assured that his bid would not be rebuffed, and 3) there must be a real possibility that the meeting would result in something “constructive.” Adams asked the President what he thought of Hays’s plan. The answer was emphatic: yes, let him come.

Then Hays went to Faubus, spent a quiet hour talking in the book-lined second-floor study of the executive mansion. By this time Faubus was worn thin under the increasing pressures. He agreed to cooperate fully (but not to capitulate). Brooks Hays called Adams and said that a telegram was on its way from Faubus to the President at Newport, R.I.

The telegram was delivered to President Eisenhower just as he holed out on the 435-yd. first hole at the Newport Country Club. The President read it slowly. Press Secretary James Hagerty scratched an answer in pencil on the back of the telegram, handed it to the President. Ike changed a word or two, initialed the bottom: “DDE.” The historic confrontation was arranged between the President of the U.S. and a governor of Arkansas who had wrought a lot more than he could handle.

Weeds in the Corn. Back in the Ozark hills Uncle Sam Faubus unknowingly told, in just a few words, why Orval had done all he had done. In the little house near Greasy Creek, he turned to his wife and exclaimed: “Why, Orval is the second-most thing in the papers these days.” Replied she: “Firstmost thing.” “Yep,” agreed Uncle Sam. “Well, that’s the way Orval always wanted it.”

But now there were weeds in Orval’s row of corn. They reached out of the field and out of the hills and around the world. They had created ugly patches on good ground, and before they stopped growing, they might well kill the very ambitions that Orval Faubus had cultivated with all his might.

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