FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — It was 1954 when the Fayetteville School Board voted to start desegregating schools, starting with the high school and then junior high grades one class per year.
The integration was peaceful. Fayetteville High School was the first in Arkansas and the first in the old confederacy to announce and follow through to integrate.
By 1967, Tommie Flowers Davis was one of four black students in her second-grade class at Washington Elementary. Some students came from Lincoln, an all black school that closed.
“I wanted to go to Lincoln,” Flowers Davis said. “Everyone I knew went to Lincoln and I couldn’t wait to get into that school.”
She recalls her time in school as bittersweet – with ups…
“We were forced to assimilate, we had to learn the culture,” Flowers Davis said. “It prepared us for life, it prepared us for functioning in environments where we normal may feel uncomfortable functioning.”
“We lost a lot of culture as a result of that because there was no real focus on our culture other than what we learned at home through our parents,” Flowers Davis said. “We have lost most of our historians, they’ve aged, they’ve died.”
Flowers Davis wants more people to learn about black history starting with the inside of a classroom.
“We focus a lot on Arkansas history on little rock 9 and just what it was like for those students,” Chantlee Ratliff said.
Ratliff says in the six years she’s taught for Fayetteville Schools, she’s seen the district become more diverse from the student population to the first black superintendent.
“It’s nice for students to be able to have a teacher and also looks like them and can relate to them on another level,” Ratliff said.
Flowers Davis doesn’t want the community to lose this momentum
“If I can have an impact and help my folks understand the value of what they have and how to make it something that’s very special to them so that we can continue to have some aspect of our community that’s left,” Flowers Davis said.