In the following article, James A. Banks, the Kerry and Linda Killinger Professor and Director of the Center for Multicultural Education at the University of Washington, Seattle, describes his Arkansas communitys reaction to the U.S. Supreme Courts Brown v. Board of Education decision when it was announced in 1954.
I was in the seventh grade at the Newsome Training School in Aubrey, Arkansas when the United States Supreme Court handed down Brown vs. Board of Education on May 17, 1954. My most powerful memory of the Brown decision is that I have no memory of it being rendered or mentioned by my parents, teachers, or preachers. In my rural southern black community, there was a conspiracy of silence about Brown. It was completely invisible.
A conspiracy of silence
I can only speculate about the meaning of the silence about Brown in the Arkansas delta in which racial segregation was codified in both law and custom in every aspect of our lives. The only public library in Lee County was 9 miles from our family farm in Marianna, the county seat that had a population of 4,550. Although I was an avid reader, I could not use the public library. It was for whites only. The only time I saw the inside of the public library was when the choir from my all-black high school entertained a white civic group in the library. We had to see second-run movies at the all-black Blue Haven Theatre. To see first-run movies, we had to go to the white Imperial Theatre and enter the Colored entrance, which led upstairs where the projection room was also located. We could hear the rattle of the movie projector as we tried to concentrate on the movie.
Marianna and Lee County, Arkansas epitomized the institutionalized discrimination and racism that existed throughout the Deep South in the mid-1950s. The conspiracy of silence about Brown in Lee County among whites was probably caused by fear that news of Brown might disrupt the institutionalized racist system of segregation that had been established in Lee County in the years after