One more chapter of the 1957 Central High School story came to a close this month in California. Bonnie Lou Faubus Salcido, Orval Faubus' youngest sister, died May 9 in Fresno. She was 93.
Salcido was responsible for a minor but intriguing footnote to the constitutional crisis provoked by her brother. At the height of the international uproar over his attempt to block the integration of Central High, she spoke out against him. She was the only member of his large family to do that — publicly, at least.
In the fall of 1957, she was quoted in a paper in California, where she had lived for several years, as being disappointed in her brother's action. She said in so many words that he had been raised better than that. Their father brought up his children to believe in racial equality, she said.
Word of her position spread quickly to Arkansas. Her brother was annoyed and told her so. There were hard feelings between them for many years after. They reconciled during his last years, and he sent her a letter saying that he loved and respected her.
I met Salcido about 25 years ago after I started work on a biography of the former governor. I interviewed her at her home in Madera, then kept in touch with her the rest of her life by mail. I became quite fond of her. She once visited my home in Hogeye.
Salcido and her brother were among the seven children of John Samuel Faubus, who became well known in the Ozarks as an organizer for the Socialist Party. He was once arrested, but not imprisoned, for opposing America's involvement in World War I.
There are still among us those who will remember that Orval's Socialist upbringing caused him trouble in his first race for governor. His opponent, Gov. Francis Cherry, made public the fact that Orval had attended a "Communist" school. That referred to Commonwealth College near Mena, a self-help school popular mainly with Socialists but also with a number of Communist Party members. That was in the early 1930s. The issue backfired for Cherry and Faubus was elected.
Orval himself probably never became a member of the Socialist Party, but he traveled the mountains with his father debating the advantages of socialism over capitalism. Even after he left the governor's office, he was still willing to admit that socialism was not all bad. Take the U.S. Postal Service, he told me. That's socialism.
The only other member of Orval's family who spoke out against his action at Central High was his father. But Sam, who had experienced first-hand the wrath of cranky neighbors and enraged political opponents, told his son in private what he thought. He also wrote letters to the Arkansas Gazette attacking his son's actions, but he signed them with a fictitious name, Jimmie Higgins. That was an inside joke among his old Socialist comrades. A "Jimmie Higgins" was the term given an ordinary party member, one who did the filing and knocked on doors.
Orval confessed to me before he died in 1994 that he had been annoyed by what he considered familial disloyalty. I think he took it better from his famously outspoken father than from the sister who was 10 years his junior.
Salcido was a liberal Democrat all her life. Her first political hero was President Franklin D. Roosevelt. (Her father shifted his allegiance from the Socialists to the Democratic Party when Roosevelt's New Deal was installed.)
Salcido was born Bonnie Faubus Feb. 13, 1920. She added Lou as her middle name later. She said in a letter to me that their father had not bothered with his four daughters' names but had made sure his three sons were named to honor Socialist heroes. Orval's middle name was Eugene after Eugene Debs, a militant opponent of World War I and a longtime Socialist Party leader. His brother Darrow Doyle — who lives in Fayetteville and is now Orval's only surviving sibling — was named for the great left-wing lawyer Clarence Darrow. The other brother, Elvin Carl, was named after Karl Marx, according to Salcido.
Her own personal history may explain her sensitivity to issues of race and ethnicity. She was married to a Latino man for more than 50 years. Raul Salcido was her boss in a California defense plant during World War II. They eloped to get married. He died last January.
Bonnie never lost her affection for Orval in spite of their differences. In a letter to me in 2009, she said, "From what I hear from others, he was a pretty good governor. But what he did in 1957 broke my heart. I was shocked. He knew how I felt but I never fought with him ... . He left a scar on the state of Arkansas that will remain forever."