Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 28, No. 12. 1965.
Little Rock -
Little Rock -
Racial Strife in an American community never fails to make headlines. But what happens afterwards? Peter Blizard, of Victoria University, takes a look at Arkansas today, and contrasts it with the racially-torn Arkansas of the 1950s. Mr. Blizard spent some time in Arkansas earlier this year while visiting the United States on a US State Department scholarship.
The city of Little Rock, Arkansas (pop. 102,000), is known throughout the world; Little Rock is often considered only as a city torn by inter-racial conflicts.
The other side of this town, that of the change and progress that is being recorded, is seldom told, if it is even known. In this article I will attempt to outline some of the changes that are taking place.
Little Rock forced itself into the spotlight of the world's press in the last days of August, 1957. It was at this time that the schools in this city were to begin the process of racial integration. Trouble flared up; demonstrations were held; the State Governor, Mr. Orval Faubus, surrounded one school with State troops to prevent any integration; Federal troops were called in, and Little Rock made history.
Today all is relatively quiet—at least on the surface; the present racial disturbances in Selma and Birmingham in the Deep South seem to have affected this town but little. However, it was not my impression that this town was complacent at the time of the crisis, or is so now.
At the time of the crisis the daily newspaper in Little Rock, the Arkansas Gazette, wrote a series of stringent Editorials castigating Governor Faubus and his supporters. As a direct result the Gazette won the 1958 Pulitzer Prize for public service. To my knowledge, there is no paper in New Zealand capable either of being responsible for such gifted editorials, or of taking such a clear, independent and unbiassed view of such a crisis situation.
Since 1957 progress has been made. Not as much as I would like to see, but social change is often slow. I would like now to document some of these changes, and make a few comments as and where these seem appropriate.
More than Schools
Racial integration in schools was only one problem that Little Rock was faced with. Many Negroes lived in slums—these needed clearing. Sanitation was non-existent in some areas—this required correction. As a result of poor sanitation, health was often impaired— this also needed attention. In all these fields substantial progress has been made.
With five other students from South-East Asia I was shown around those areas in Little Rock where the slums have been cleared and where they remain to be cleared. We were not on a selected, guided tour: we went where we wanted to go. In the field of slum clearance, here are some of the facts:
• Since 1957 slum clearance has been accelerated. At the time of the racial flare-up there were 6 agencies responsible for slum clearance in Arkansas; there are now 42. In Little Rock the aim is to have removed all slums by 1975; at present rates of progress this seems a realistic aim.
• Legislation has been enacted so as to allow Local Authorities to compel owners to sell properties that lie on land scheduled for "total clearance." Since 1957 4000 purchase orders have been issued; however, less than 1 per cent of these were on a compulsory basis. A charitable interpretation of this record could conclude that many of the landowners of Little Rock have given support to slum clearance, and tacit support to a programme designed to improve the living conditions of the Negro population. A cynic might argue that those same landowners realised that such progress was inevitable and thus were acquiescent in their attitude.
• The houses which have been torn down—if the term "house" is applicable in such a context, which I doubt—have been replaced by relatively modern single-family units. The term "adequate" would describe them reasonably. These houses can cither be owned or rented. The authorities realised that many families would not have much ready cash: to combat this, low (uneconomic) rentals are charged, low or no-interest loans are available on a long-term repayment basis. At a rough estimation it could be said that rentals and repayments rarely amount to more than 20 per cent of the salary of the owner or occupier; this seems to compare more than favourably with rentals in the Wellington area.
There, then, is the credit side of re-housing operations. What of the deficiencies?
This question is more difficult to answer since it involves interpretation, and a greater involvement in value-judgments—and a two-day visit to a city is hardly sufficient experience to render valid interpretations of a complex social situation. Having noted that, I would make the following observations:
1. So far in Little Rock there is no area of the city that has "integrated housing areas." This is a serious deficiency for several reasons.
Firstly, by living apart, it is unlikely that "integration" in a realistic sense will take place people who do not mix socially it the "family-like" role are hardly likely to come to grips, in a realistic fashion, with their mutual problems.
Secondly, it would seem that the most logical time to initiate integrated housing is at the time of slum clearance. To clear the slums, re-develop the area, and to continue segregation seems to me to perpetuate a problem which lies at the roots of this community's internal misunderstandings.
Thirdly, since where a person lives often decides where he goes to school, segregation in the area of housing is likely to perpetuate racial segregation in schools—which was the [unclear: foca] point of Little Rock's 1957 crisis.
2. Housing relocation must [unclear: g] hand-in-hand with social education if the former change [unclear: a] to be a successful and lasting one. In some of the form [unclear: slums], and in some of those [unclear: th] still exist, unbelievably [unclear: ba] sanitary conditions exist.