Old times there ... | Arkansas Blog

Old times there ...

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Yesterday, I linked Ernest Dumas' current column about Republican senatorial candidate Stanley Reed. It's mostly about the deficit hawk's $5 million (and counting) haul in federal farm subsidies. But it mentioned in passing a tribute paid Reed by his former friend and potential future foe, Sen. Blanche Lincoln. She lauded Reed in the Congressional Record for his contribution to education, including leadership of the Lee Academy in his hometown of Marianna. Dumas wrote:

Lee Academy was set up in 1969 for white children of Lee County when President Nixon's Justice Department directed the integration of schools in the county. Lee Academy is accredited not by the state of Arkansas but by the Mississippi Private School Association.

This prompted a response from an on-line reader:

Mr. Dumas, please look at Lee Academy´s website: http://leeacademycougars.net/Home_Page.php And read the anti discrimination note carefully. And please post an addendum to your column. Why do you choose to mislead your readers?

Happy to be of service, though there's nothing inaccurate in  Dumas' passage. But, indeed, the Lee Academy website contains a non-discrimination clause, a policy and practice required, at least in theory, of institutions that hope to retain tax-free status with the IRS and thus receive tax-deductible charitable contributions. The website also contains a wealth of photos that indicate the school, open though it is to diversity (it reports a 3 percent student population "of color" in a private school database), isn't much more diverse than the Mississippi private schools with whom the Lee Cougars play their athletic contests. It's not from lack of trying, I'm sure. The only black face I could spot in the photos, however, is an Obama mask worn to a costume event.

Now for one of life's little cosmic ironies/coincidences/jokes. The vibrant Mississippi private school culture owes much to William Simmons' leadership of the white Citizens Council and its work to establish school for whites in Mississippi. Seg academies also took root in the Arkansas Delta at places like Marianna and Marvell. Most have adopted non-discriminatory policies since, though integration has been slight.

And what did William Simmons do before he moved back to his hometown of Jackson to become a Citizens Council leader? In the early 1950s, he lived several doors down from my family on Fourth Street in Lake Charles, La. He and my father were partners in a short-lived food brokerage business. I'm sure the story is somewhat more complicated (the people who could tell me the details are dead), but  you could stretch a point and say if Waddell Brantley had done a better job selling the company's line of grocery products, Mississippi might have been spared William Simmons' homecoming. My apologies, Mississippi. But, sorry, no reparations.

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