Natural State News with Context
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Ever since the Central High School integration crisis in 1957, the image of public education in Arkansas in the national consciousness has ... not been one associated with progressive best-practices, but Arkansas public schools did turn out a president and a number of world class artists and scientists. Today, though, the state ranks near the bottom of most indexes of student achievement.

Black, White Opinion Converges Around Belief Inequality Exists

Sarah Whites-Koditschek
Little Rock resident Joyce Williams, 81, speaks during the questions period at the panel event.

Over the last 15 years, residents of Little Rock have lost some hope that educational opportunity for kids of color is the same or equal to that of white kids. That’s according to an annual study on racial attitudes put out by the University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s Anderson Institute on Race and Ethnicity.

The survey is focused on education this year, and it found that while 60 percent of whites think integration benefits everyone, only 42 percent of blacks in Little Rock agree. But all city residents increasingly agree that  school education isn’t equal. University historian John Kirk led the survey.

He says one reason whites and blacks see more inequality in Little Rock than they did in his first survey 15 years ago is that demographics of the city have changed.

“As the African American population continues to grow, it just physically becomes a greater presence and enters into the white consciousness more in the city.”

And there’s another point of agreement. Little Rock residents of all races are in support of returning the city’s school district to local control after a state takeover in 2015.

Little Rock Nine member Elizabeth Eckford spoke on a panel about the survey. She says it’s important to keep track of racial attitudes.

“I think it’s important, instead of guessing and assuming, that more voices need to be heard always.”

She says that if the voices of more moderates had been heard back when she desegregated Central High, things might not have gone so badly.

“I remember in 1957, the only public voices were those of the opposition. The normal business leadership were silent.”

Joyce Williams is 81 and has spent much of her life in Little Rock. She says she respects John Kirk and his work, but in general, she’s disappointed by public conversations about race in Little Rock that don’t lead to change.

“There are some groups who feel like it’s the right thing to do to look at what can be done to improve race relations or provide some rights or some benefits to some people who are on the bottom of the scale. They have all sounded the same for the last 60 years,” she said.

She says true racial equality would have to come from the national level and would affect every social institution, not just schools. Little Rock Nine member Minnijean Brown-Trickey’s sister, Phyllis Brown, says she reads the survey results around racial attitudes and sees stagnancy .

“Its 15 years old, and we still have the same results.”

Kirk says he understands why some people get jaded since school desegregation has been going backwards since the 1980’s, but he thinks it’s important to keep talking about race and education.”

“The alternative is to have no conversation at all. I think when the conversation stops you stop addressing it altogether and all is lost.”

Fifty-eight percent of Little Rock blacks and about half of Little Rock whites think children of color do not have equal opportunities.   

This story is produced by Arkansas Public Media, a statewide journalism collaboration among public media organizations. Arkansas Public Media reporting is funded in part through a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, with the support of partner stations KUAR, KUAF, KASU and KTXK and from members of the public. You can learn more and support Arkansas Public Media’s reporting at Arkansas Public Media is Natural State news with context.

Related Content