2005 duPont Award Winners: ‘Hoxie: The First Stand’

Jan 10, 2005  •  Post A Comment

The story of the quest for racial integration in Southern schools has been well documented. But the saga of an Arkansas town called Hoxie, the third town to integrate after the pivotal Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1955, has received little ink.

That’s why David Appleby, a filmmaker and a teacher at the University of Memphis, wanted to make a documentary about the Hoxie integration battle. He also was drawn to the story because it went against type.

“What interested me about this story is if you look at the Southern narratives about the ’50s and ’60s, they all tend to have the same characters,” he said. “Small-town white redneck racists, Northern lawyers or college kids who are liberal, very brave black students and parents who take a stand supported by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and the small-town Southern sheriff chewing tobacco. And that stereotype may well be deserved in terms of a larger percentage of what did happen.”

But that wasn’t the case in Hoxie. Instead, Mr. Appleby uncovered a story of a small town with rural, poorly educated white members of the school board who unexpectedly led the move toward desegregation.

It wasn’t easy. Members of various white citizens councils descended on the town in 1955, fighting to keep schools for African Americans separate and to rally the citizens against the board. But the board stood firm, despite the tremendous opposition, Mr. Appleby said.

“They did it because it was the law, because it made economic sense, so you didn’t have to maintain two schools, and because it was right in the sight of God,” he said. “Most other Southerners didn’t believe it and these men did, and they put their livelihoods and their lives on the line to do it.”

Telling the story was tough, since little news footage existed about Hoxie. Many of the still photos had been lost. Mr. Appleby spent six years searching for photographs from personal collections, and he also used some national news footage of the desegregation movement in general, since the Hoxie situation was part and parcel of a larger battle.

Mr. Appleby began working on the project in 1996, and it aired in 2004. The film is now being used as a teaching tool in schools in Arkansas and around the country, he said.