Historic Love: The Story of Marion Taylor and Betty Jean Toombs

Betty Jean Toombs Taylor and Marion Taylor

The eighth-grade homeroom classroom of Mrs. Bernice K. Underwood at Dunbar High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, is where their story began. He sat on the first row with classmates Wilson Williams, Douglas Peters, Alvin Liggins, and Romania Savage. She sat on the sixth row with Lela Camp and Mrs. Underwood. Another two dozen students occupied space in that class. She remembers that he wouldn’t allow other boys to sit next to her if there was an open seat during that school year. It was 1953, and neither could imagine the historic moments that would become part of their love story.

She would be one of thirty-three students asking to integrate Little Rock Public Schools.

Children of Marion and Betty Jean Taylor: (standing; left to right) Michael Taylor; Gary Taylor; Cory Taylor; Greg Taylor; (seated) Kelvin Taylor; Betty Jean Toombs Taylor; 2015.

On February 8, 1956, the District Court of the United States, Eastern District of Arkansas, Western Division [Bench Docket – Civil] Case No. 3113 would list her name with four of her siblings—along with her “Father and Next Friend” Willie Toombs—as plaintiffs in Aaron v. Cooper. Attorneys listed on her behalf were Wiley A. Branton, U. Simpson Tate, Robert L. Carter, and Thurgood Marshall.

By the time the case had wended its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled for the plaintiffs in September 1958, allowing integration to move forward without impediments, the young man from the front row, Marion Taylor, had convinced Betty Jean Toombs from the sixth row to marry him.

He was born in Dermott, Arkansas. She was born in Little Rock. The eighth grade is when their lives joined in historic fashion. After graduation, he served four years in the U.S. Air Force as an instrument technician.

They became parents. The first son was born in Arkansas, the second in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The third, fourth, and fifth sons were born in Little Rock.

Official portrait of Marion Taylor, the first African American to serve in the Arkansas State Police.

In 1964, he became a patrolman for the Little Rock Police Department. In 1967, he moved to the Arkansas State Police, working as a state trooper and public information spokesman. He became the first African American to serve as an Arkansas state trooper.

In 1973, Taylor accepted a position with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, serving at the Murray Lock and Dam in Little Rock. Taylor later accepted a job with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Southwestern Division and moved his family to the metropolitan area of Dallas, Texas. He retired after more than twenty-five years with the corps. (Read more about Marion Taylor in the CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas.)

Marion Taylor at the Murray Lock and Dam during his tenure with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Her employment included working at Economy Drug Store with at least three of her siblings. She later worked at the Veterans Administration Hospital, where additional siblings also worked.

They were members of St. Bartholomew Catholic Church, and their children attended its school.

They remained life partners, having created a family and an indelible history, until his death in 2000.

 

By Rhonda Stewart, Genealogy/Local History Specialist, CALS Roberts Library

 

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