by Max Brantley
You've heard of the Little Rock Nine and the Jena Six. Get ready to hear about the Little Rock Four, at least if Micheal Daugherty is re-elected to his Zone 2 LR School Board seat next week. That's the formulation devised by his campaign manager, J.J. Lacey, to answer the "Gang of Four" label that the Democrat-Gazette has hung on the black board majority, to the immense displeasure of many in the black community.
Daugherty supporters joyfully raised four fingers in the air after Lacey invoked the appellation at a Daugherty rally Saturday afternoon on the parking lot of the Union Rescue Mission thrift shop in the heart of Zone 2 at 12th and Pine. About 100 people attended, but the attendees were impressive. They included, and many spoke, School Board members Charles Armstrong and Dianne Curry, state Representative Linda Chesterfield, state Sens. Irma Hunter Brown and Tracy Steele, former state Rep. Joyce Elliott, JP Donna Massey, City Director Erma Hendrix, former Razorback star Scotty Thurman, civil rights lawyer John Walker, the past and present presidents of the Classroom teachers, Katherine Wright Knight and Cathy Koehler, CTA director Grainger Ledbetter and his mother, Brownie, a long-time political activist, First Presbyteran pastor Flash Gordon, and Beebe administration agency heads Colette Honorable and former Sen. Bill Walker. And I've left out a number of others.
Bishop Steven Arnold of St. Mark Baptist, the keynote speaker, said he would urge those of his 6,000-member congregation who lived in the zone to vote for Daugherty. Sounding a theme repeated in Daugherty's campaign literature, he said, "If we let the rich and famous dictate what we do, it is our fault." The reference is to the heavy support Daugherty's challenger, Anna Swaim, has received from white business executives in Little Rock. Those who say this is not about race should spend a couple of hours mingling with 100 black people, some slightly mystified at what exactly -- if not racial fear -- has motivated such a strong and unified antipathy to a black majority school board among business executives.
Michael Nellums, who picked up about 160 votes in the first election for the seat that had Daugherty and Swaim in a virtual dead heat, was widely expected to appear and endorse Daugherty, but he was a no-show. He had earlier told the Times he didn't plan to make an endorsement in the race. A number of people who've spoken to Nellums claim he spoke favorably about Daugherty's candidacy. Drew Pritt, who got eight votes, did appear to endorse Daugherty.
One other intriguing bit of gossip: Former LR Superintendent Roy Brooks, who was ousted by the Little Rock Four, was mentioned frequently. Many expect him to emerge as leader of a charter school proposed for the former Gazette building, owned by Brooks' backer Walter Hussman, the Democrat-Gazette publisher, who's apparently agreed to provide space for the school at a bargain rate. The school also apparently has backing from the charter school development program at UAF, funded by Walton money, and that probably means it will enjoy Walton Foundation support in the operation as well. Hussman and Walton money had supported the merit pay experiment instituted secretly by Brooks. It was one issue that led to his fall out with the board and, not incidentally, began the D-G's unrelenting attack on what came, in the 2006 school election, to be the LR Four.
Several speakers offered the reminder that the number of schools on the school improvement list had grown under Brooks' leadership and and they also poked fun at white business community statements about the supposed erosion of the district in one year with a black board majority. Did the decades of white majority rule not share some responsibility for shortcomings in a district that does quite well educating white students but tends to lag behind other districts in educating black students?
Slogans from Daugherty flyers: "Don't be fooled by the newspaper!" and "You can help to ensure that BIG BUSINESS does not control the Little Rock School District or our children's education."