Today we did a role play of the school board in Little Rock in 1957. The class was divided into 5 groups each representing a different interest responding to the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v Board of Ed that separate but equal was inherently unequal and that integration needed to proceed “with all deliberate speed” (Brown II). Local Business Owners, African-Americans Opposing Integration, NAACP, Families of the Little Rock Nine, and Governor Faubus were the specific groups the students formed.
Each group needed to present a resolution to the school board as to the proper response to the issue of integration and offer at least 4 major points in support of the resolution they created. As we sat around the table today the energy was high. It was clear that the students were well-prepared and passionate. Each group formally presented their point of view. There was some time for rebuttal.
That was when someone from the Local Business Owners group addressed Governor Faubus and, because there were four members of the group, addressed them as the Governors Faubi. What had started as a serious, committed role play morphed into an intense opportunity to address Governor Faubus for everything (just so they could say “the Governors Faubi”). In fact, each group clamored for a turn to address the Governors Faubi. And the Governors Faubi beamed with all the attention.
And, in reality, the crisis in Little Rock did really revolve around an ambitious and power-hungry governor. Faubus had actually been a moderate before Brown. His father was a socialist and had given him the middle name Eugene, after Eugene Debs. He actually had made some supportive statements regarding racial harmony before Brown and had had a lot of support from the African-American community in his first election. Faubus riled up his base for the sole reason of re-election. His wife and closest friends were shocked at his stance standing up against Eisenhower and calling out the National Guard to prevent integration. Perhaps this was a factor which led to his eventual divorce. He served as governor for 6 terms in Arkansas and helped to create with Barnett of Mississppi and Wallace of Alabama a violent response to integration and a bloodier road in the fight for civil rights. The journalist Ashmore, who won a Pullitzer for his reporting on the integration of Central High, said that the fight over integration in Central High School was a “crisis manufactured by Faubus.”
In our simulation, the Local Business Owners supported Faubus’ call for continued segregation and the African-Americans Who Opposed Integration believed in his visions of terrible violence that would accompany it were it to occur. The NAACP and the Families of the Little Rock Nine could not find common ground with him and there were lots of loud and impassioned words exchanged across the table. The Governors Faubi did justice to their source. It was visceral for us all.