The New York Times carried a lengthy obituary yesterday on desegregation activist Lee Lorch, a college teacher whose work in breaking down segregation barriers in Manhattan housing was his lead accomplishment. But he also played a role in the Little Rock school desegregation crisis in 1957.
David Margolick, who wrote the obituary and who wrote “Elizabeth and Hazel,” the sharp examination of the famous photograph of Elizabeth Eckford of the Little Rock Nine being abused as she walked alone to Central High School, provides that story. After being fired at Fisk University for his activism in 1955, Lorch got a job at Philander Smith College in Little Rock the next year. His wife, Grace, was an activist, too.
It was Grace Lorch who made the headlines the following year, for comforting Elizabeth Eckford of the Little Rock Nine after Ms. Eckford’s walk through a group of angry hecklers outside Little Rock Central High School, a moment captured in a famous photograph. Mr. Lorch, who had become an official with the Arkansas chapter of the N.A.A.C.P., was working behind the scenes, accompanying the black students to school, then tutoring them as they awaited admission.
Once more whites abused the Lorches for their activities, evicting them from their apartment, harassing their young daughter, burning a cross on their lawn and placing dynamite in their garage. And black leaders, mindful of Mr. Lorch’s Communist associations, kept their distance.
“Thurgood Marshall has been busy poisoning as many people as he can against us,” Mr. Lorch complained in October 1957, referring to the lawyer leading the N.A.A.C.P.’s desegregation campaign in the courts and, later, a justice of the United States Supreme Court. The group’s field secretary, Clarence Laws, wrote Mr. Lorch: “The best contribution you could make to the cause of full citizenship for Negroes in Arkansas at this time would be to terminate, in writing, your affiliation with the Little Rock Branch, N.A.A.C.P.”
When, at the end of the school year, Philander Smith declined to renew Mr. Lorch’s appointment, it was official: No American college would have him. So in 1959, he moved his family to Canada ..
There’s a great deal more on the Lorches history here on a website from Canada where he ultimately found long tenure as a teacher and where he died. The link includes the outpouring of world response Grace Lorch received after going to comfort Eckford.