Sondra Gordy “Lost Year” Papers Now Available to Researchers

An empty hallway at Central High School in Little Rock during the Lost Year (1958-59), when Governor Orval Faubus ordered the city’s high schools closed.

In September 1957, the federal government mandated and enforced the desegregation of Little Rock Central High School. In August 1958, Governor Orval Faubus directed the Arkansas General Assembly to legislate that any school facing desegregation be closed. Because of court orders, the legislation closed all four public high schools in Little Rock: Central High, Hall High, Little Rock Technical High (all three historically white schools), and Horace Mann High (a historically black school).

An African-American student in Little Rock watching a class on television during the year the city’s high schools were closed to avoid desegregation; 1958.

Nearly four thousand students (both white and African-American) were forced to pursue their education elsewhere—some in private schools, others in public schools elsewhere (both in Arkansas and out of state)—while some students (including fifty percent of the black high school students) received no education in “The Lost Year.” The order of the governor and General Assembly was affirmed by voters on September 27, 1958. However, by the following spring, Little Rock voters had selected a new school board, and the high schools opened as scheduled for the 1959–60 school year. Desegregation of schools moved forward.

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Sondra Gordy and Elizabeth Huckaby at the fortieth anniversary commemoration, Central High School, Little Rock—September 25, 1997. Huckaby published Crisis at Central High Little Rock 1957–58 in 1980. The book was based on her personal diaries, newspaper articles she saved, and school records she collected as an administrator at Central High.

Sondra Gordy was a professor at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway (now retired). While pursuing her PhD at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, she wrote a thesis, “Teachers of the Lost Year: Little Rock School District: 1958–1959,” completed in 1996. Her research included interviews with students and faculty of the Little Rock high schools. After completing her thesis, she continued researching the students affected by the Lost Year, resulting in the book Finding the Lost Year: What Happened When Little Rock Closed Its Public Schools, published by the University of Arkansas Press in 2009 (available here).

Photograph of unidentified teacher conducting classes over television during the Lost Year.

While preparing that book, Gordy teamed with Sandra Hubbard to create a film documentary, The Lost Year: The Untold Story of the Year Following the Crisis at Central High, which was completed in 2007. Gordy’s interview notes, photographs, recordings, and other research materials are included in this collection.

The Sondra Gordy papers are now available to researchers in the CALS Roberts Library Research Room, and the finding aid is available here.

By Steve Teske, Archivist, CALS Roberts Library

 

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