In an article in the winter issue of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock Law Review, federal Judge William R. Wilson Jr. roars to the defense of the late federal Judge Ronald N. Davies, a key figure in the historic 1957 desegregation of Little Rock Central High School. Although the article doesn’t expressly say so, it’s apparently intended to refute criticism of Davies in a recent revisionist history of the Central High crisis, “Turn Away Thy Son: Little Rock, the Crisis that Shocked the Nation” by Elizabeth Jacoway. Wilson declined to comment when asked. The article names Jacoway and her book only in footnotes.
The Jacoway book defends Gov. Orval Faubus, who called out the National Guard to block the desegregation of Central High, while censuring Davies, who ordered Faubus to stop interfering with desegregation; Arkansas Gazette executive editor Harry Ashmore, who urged compliance with federal court orders, and, most severely of all, Little Rock School Superintendent Virgil Blossom, who promoted desegregation of Central. (In a footnote, Wilson says of Blossom, “Most of those who knew him at the time thought that Blossom wanted to do the right thing. Some later commentators have faulted him, but on the whole it is my view that he acted commendably, in light of the extreme circumstances, not the least of which was the Governor’s last-minute crossing over to the segregationist side.”)
Wilson quotes court records and adds his own commentary. “The governor’s lawyers presented a series of motions, all specious. … Apparently, the Governor and his advisers claimed they thought the judge had ordered removal of the Guard [Jacoway’s book is footnoted]. If, in fact, they thought this, they would have to be considered among those who have ‘eyes to see, and see not; which have ears, and hear not.’ ”
Wilson concludes, “While other federal judges equivocated in the face of segregationist pressure, Davies remained resolute in upholding the United States Constitution and the decrees of the Supreme Court.”
The same issue of the UALR law review contains essays delivered in September at a 50th anniversary symposium on the Central High Crisis. One of the essays is by Jacoway.