Digital Original: Memorial to honor 21 teenage boys who died in a fire, 60 years later


It’s been 60 years since a tragic fire took the lives of 21 young boys at the Negro Boys Industrial School, that once stood in Pulaski County.

The doors of the boy’s dormitory were locked from the outside, according to historical press reports from March of 1959. The fire quickly spread to the room the boys were trapped in and the building burned to the ground. 

“Even though it’s 60 years it just still hurts,” says Betty Forbes the1st cousin of one of the boys, Carl Edwards Thornton. 

On Thursday, the memorial called, “Wrightsville 21,” was unveiled in honor of the victims at the Arkansas Department of Correction.

Close relatives, staff from the governor’s office and community members came out to show support and pay homage. 

The memorial, which includes a landscaped sitting area and marble walkway, has been installed at the entrance to the unit with a plaque including the names of each boy. 

For the history about the fire, click here.  

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