Little Rock and Central High – 40 & 50 years on

 News from Little Rock

Timeline of Little Rock public schools desegregation

Your door is shut against my face,
And I am sharp as steel with discontent.

Claude McKay, “The White House” 

What happens to a dream deferred?
…does it explode?
Langston Hughes, “Harlem” 

My days are not their days…
My ways are not their ways…
I don’t think they dare
to think of that: no:
I’m fairly certain they don’t think of that at all.
James Baldwin, “Staggerlee wonders” 

The biggest News I do not dare
Telegraph to the Editor’s chair:
“They are like people everywhere.”

The angry Editor would reply
In hundred harryings of Why
Gwendolyn Brooks, “The Chicago Defender Sends a Man to Little Rock,” a poem that describes life in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957 when Central High School became the site of the first federally-enforced court-ordered school integration.  

Forty years later, President Clinton returned to his home state to commemorate the occasion, while essentially ignoring the poverty and resultant violence in the area. During the first three days of Clinton’s four day stay, four young men aged 17 to 23 were murdered in Little Rock not far from Central High School – an outbreak of violence that had been foreshadowed less than two months earlier by a drive-by shooting near Central High that was the third such shooting in a five-day period which also saw the killings of four other youths. The murders and poverty went virtually unreported, as usual. The slain – Brian Young, 19; Derrick Mcbride, 17; Jamarco Woods, 23; Melvin Morning, 23; Mark Green, 26; Shameka Moore, 16; Antoine Harris, 18; Tony Davis, 20. 

I.

Historical the print deluge not once before nor since so huge – the president preached claimed he cared – emotion trite and tripe none spared  

at Central High in Little Rock where justice first was forced and won. Reporters praised in nonstop talk the proud returning native son –  

so sanguine suave a specious bit on stage displayed – adorned bright lit – sleek mugging presidential tears for racial gains of forty years.  

He harkened to the Mayflower – he mentioned Ellis Island too. To sanction patriotic power he flung around clichés half true.  

He lauded then the Little Rock Nine (and rightly so their story told how brave they crossed the color line thus much deserving glory bold)  

but spoke no word at Central’s door about reversing flight from poor though wealth had fled from center town – of monied flight he’d not talk down.  

The city splashed fresh paint around to try to make the streets look swell – a surface fix meant to confound to fool the cameras fool them well. 

II.

To see this dog and pony show – the community house would not go – avoided by its radio crew whose workers shrugged refused the view –  

no steadfast earnest union troupe – to delta scattered far and back – no ACORN no New Party group no sign of four young men dead black –  

forgotten buried shunned no shock four young men killed near Central’s block that noble week in Little Rock – those joyous days in Little Rock. 

III.

The governor proud proved quite lost explaining what his daughter wrote on visit to a holocaust memorial – these words of note –  

“Why didn’t somebody do something?” she simply marked and then again – “Why didn’t somebody do something?” – young poignant words from poignant pen.  

The gov’nor declared – “In silence we left and I knew she got it.” Then as if in prayer – calm intense – he offered up this plaintive bit –  

“I hope that never does someone have to ask why didn’t someone ‘do something.’ ” He meant it too. You might wonder if he truly knew  

four young folk died – one week alone – a mere few blocks right down the street. He spoke as if he’d never known – as if some facts he would not meet. 

IV.

Reporters none walked down old streets to hear how people wish to live. So busy hugging loud elites the mainstream news could no one give  

to ring a bell or knock a door to sit on porch and learn the score to gather round a kitchen plate a living room and there relate.  

Though folks might raise concerns cold blunt – by asking wise reporters could in lively talk without affront learn far more than they thought they would –  

real word collect – of dire import – upfront street tales fresh thought live wit – true human needs and cares – in short – a worthy text no PR skit.  

Of news like this the press won’t dare – keen poet Gwendolyn Brooks once found exactly forty years from where those young folks died near Central’s ground.  

Disaster there ignored by all – remember this – take time recall – proud polis papers president – how much we care quite evident. 

V.

The press not much the world reveals with cheap words clever false appeals. Much life that matters now – forget. Most news goes elsewhere – no regret –

or slants twists lies omits distorts – by corporate will – sheer force – directs slick chatter from sleek ruling courts thus base and gullible infects.  

The economic system fails to fill life’s gaps – it fills grim jails as corporate suits work to disguise the coins they steal from dead men’s eyes.  

Neglect that which small profit gives – elected representatives – owned by vast wealth – are sternly told. Despair and trouble soon unfold. 

VI.

The president preached claimed he cared – emotion trite and tripe none spared so sanguine suave a specious bit on stage displayed – adorned bright lit –  

slick mugging presidential tears for racial pains of forty years four young men dead – news took a walk while vapid presidential talk  

engulfed those gathered all around where media intent were found to note each smile and mark each frown but made no note of death downtown.  

From neighborhoods our eyes we turn – so many killed such slight concern – forgotten buried shunned no shock – unmentioned by official talk  

that noble week in Little Rock. Forgotten buried – wonder why – four young men killed near Central High that joyous week in Little Rock.

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