Production Team: A
Interview Date: October 29, 1985
Interview Place: Little Rock, Arkansas
Camera Rolls: 117-119
Sound Rolls: 1108-1109
Produced by Blackside, Inc.
Housed at the Washington University Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
Interview with Craig Rains, conducted by Blackside, Inc. on October 29, 1985, for Eyes on the Prize: America's Civil Rights Years (1954-1965). Washington University Libraries, Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
These transcripts contain material that did not appear in the final program. Only text appearing in bold italics was used in the final version of Eyes on the Prize.
(SOUND ROLL NUMBER 1108, CAMERA ROLL 117)
Central High was a very special place, even back in 1957, because of the long history — the colorful history of the school, the tradition that had come down through the years. Little Rock was a pretty good-sized town in that time, just to have one white high school. And so all of the students, all over the whole town, went to this one school, and for a town of a hundred thousand population, whatever it was then, it drew everybody together. And most of the people who were students, their parents had also gone to high school there. So this tradition was passed down, the school was very steeped in tradition. It was wonderful. It carried over onto the football field; it carried over in the classrooms. Students really felt closeness. The school had a terrific reputation throughout the United States. It had an unusually high number of National Merit Scholars that would come out, which is still true today. There's a tremendous number of National Merit Scholars that come out of Central High School and go to the Ivy League schools every year that go all over the United States. Its reputation for scholarship was very strong, and its reputation in athletics was strong as well. It had a football team that was —I think we won 33 straight games during the period that I was there. They even created what they called a Junior Rose Bowl, and tried to get Little Rock Central to play in that, along with another school from California, which were ranked as the top two high school football teams in the country. Unfortunately, our school board wouldn't let us go.
I don't remember exactly when I first realized that the school was going to be integrated, but I do remember that one of the things that bothered me was that we were being told to do something that we might or might not want to do. I was a student of the Civil War and Robert E. Lee was, and still is, one of my ideals, and he was a man that believed equally in local government having a closer knowledge and awareness of what the people wanted, as opposed to the federal government. And so, my first thought was, not that we were going to have to go to school with blacks, that didn't bother me, but that we were being told by the federal government to do something and we didn't have any say-so in that.
Little Rock was a hundred percent segregated, back then. We still had separate restrooms labeled white and colored. I remember my father used to get someone to work for him in the yard, every Saturday. He'd go downtown, there would always be a bunch of black men who were out of work, that needed work, that would do yard work. And he would bring one home. When lunch time, we would go in to eat, and my mother would always take the food for the yard man out, so he could eat outside. And we kept a separate plate, and separate Mason jar for him to drink out of, and separate silverware, and it was just something that was set aside for him. That was something that we all took for granted as something that happened. Although it never bothered me, when I went out town, and went up to northeast Arkansas, to a tiny town called Wiener, Arkansas, when I was very young, we used to play with all the black children up there. I never knew any difference. I didn't make any difference to me. When it came back down to the more urban areas, the line was pretty strong.
CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT SEEING THE NATIONAL GUARD ROLL IN [unintelligible].
Well, I had gone down to the school, the night before it opened, and just kind of a tradition, I was going to meet some friends down there, and I was sitting there, outside the school, waiting for them, and I heard some pretty loud noises coming down the street. And I looked up and saw a convoy coming down. And I couldn't believe what I was seeing. It was military vehicles, and they started rolling by me, and started parking in all of the intersections, all around the school. And I immediately moved my car out of where they were, and I had a camera in the car. And I jumped out and ran back, and I was scared to death, because I didn't know what was happening, but I ran up, and took a quick picture of the first vehicle that pulled in, and then I was so scared that I jumped back in my car and took off without taking any more. I didn't know whether they were the good guys or the bad guys. I didn't know whether they were National Guard or federal troops, what they were. And didn't know until I got home, and it was all on television about the fact that Governor Faubus had called out the National Guard.
I had — one of my jobs as an officer in the student council was to do some outside work, raise the flags for homeroom period. So I was generally the last person in the halls, every morning after raising the flag before I went to class. We had — this had been going on, all the commotion and everything outside the school had been going on for some time, the federal troops had come in. And one morning after I had raised the flag, and was on my way to my homeroom, I looked up, and through a side door, I saw the students, the black students, coming in. And they looked lost. In fact, when they first came in, there was — there was nobody with them. They were — they were by themselves. The military people were behind them, so I didn't see them. So I walked up to I guess Ernest Green was probably the first one in line there, and I said, I guess you're looking for the office, aren't you? And he said, yes we are. And I said, C'mon, I'll show you where it is. So I took them down to the office and walked in, and told Miss Huckaby that the students were there to come to school. And with that I left.
Well, it's a weird thing, I think. You wonder if anything good ever comes out of being given a task such as raising the flag, but I think that gave me an opportunity I would not have had otherwise, because I had the opportunity to see what was going on outside the school, to see the anger, and feel the sense – you could cut it with a knife, the tension outside the school, with these people who had come in from other parts of the state, other states. There were license plates from all other states that were there, the people who had come in and were outside our school.** Very few people from Little Rock were there causing these problems, that I could see. But it was just an ugly attitude. And it — it — especially I have a picture of — of when Elizabeth Eckford came to try to get into school. And the crowd began to heckle her, and cheer and shout, as she walked along. I was just dumbfounded. I ran up with – I had my camera at the time — I ran up and took a picture of it. And then as she went on I thought, well, I can't believe people would actually be this way to other people. And seeing all of this hate really began to make me realize that all the world is not rosy. In fact, there are some people out there that are persecuted. There are some people that don't get a fair shake. And there are people that are ugly, that don't understand, and are not open-minded. And I began to change from being somebody who was — I considered myself a moderate, who, if I had my way, would have said, let's don't integrate, because it's the state's right to decide, to someone who felt a real sense of compassion for these students, and felt like they deserved something that I had, and I also developed a real dislike for the people that were out there that were causing problems. It was very unsettling to me.**
(THAT WAS A CAMERA ROLL-OUT. AND WE'LL BE GOING TO CAMERA ROLL 118.)
Are you talking about the 101st? Or the National Guard? After the 101st Airborne came in, things, settled down probably within 24 hours. That was a crack bunch of troops. They knew what they were doing. Their leader was a – a superior military man, and they called us together in an assembly at school, and introduced General Walker as being the commander of the troops, and he told us how the cow ate the cabbage. The troops were first-class in every way. They were very courteous, but they didn't take any —anything off of anybody, and you could tell, just by the way they stood, that they meant business, and things cleaned out immediately. One of the — one of the good things was they immediately moved the demarcation zone away from the campus, and — so that we were protected by a block of dead space, where people couldn't drive down, and they dispersed— we didn't know whether there were any riots, or people or anything going on away from the school, but they had the good sense to move their line of troops away. And that immediately — once — once the crowds got away from the school, there was no excitement to them, so they eventually dispersed. And it was because of the professional way that the 101st handled it.
Yeah. They — they were very intimidating. They were — they were all business. They were there to do a job, and they did it.
We were apprehensive about the — the troops when they came, because — I think they were uptight, too. They didn't know what they were going to get into. There had been some —some violence go on. There had been some people hurt, and they were going in to what they might even consider a war zone, so to speak, so they were a little tense. And —and of course we were tense because they were coming in, as federal troops, and we didn't know what to think. They bivouacked, and pitched their tents on our football practice field. And the helicopters parked out there, and from time to time would take off. But they didn't fraternize with the students, at all, so there was little bit of distance between them. But the first time there was a home football game, when Central played at the stadium, which is right behind the school. Well, all of the 101st airborne troops came as a unit, and marched in and sat on the Central High side, and cheered for the Tigers. And when they did that, they immediately won over the hearts of the parents and the students, and the team, and everybody else, and it really broke the ice, and was a great thing. Another thing that they did was, they went — several of them went to the State Fair, and they won a bunch of stuffed toys out there, and then they decided they were going to give those to, I think Children's Hospital, donate those. And so they called the student newspaper, and asked if they could get some publicity for that, which we gave them publicity, and they did little things like that that really, kind of won the community over to them, which I thought was really great.
Sound Roll 1108
WHAT ROLE DID THE TEACHERS PLAY IN THIS SITUATION?
The teachers had a very tough role in this situation, especially early on, when the National Guard was there. At the time, the school was not air-conditioned, so the windows were open, hot, in September, and the crowd was right outside the windows. So it's terrible distracting. You could hear people milling, and shouting, and chanting, and the noise of cars driving around, and every once in a while you'd hear a jeer go up, and you'd wonder what in the world — as a student, you'd wonder, what's going on out there? And so the teachers had to work extra hard to keep our concentration, and to keep our minds on our schoolwork. I think they did a fantastic job. They — then after the students, after the black students came in, of course, the tension was there, and the teachers did a tremendous job to break down the tension, and to ease everybody's mind that there wasn't going to be any violence. Although we had — from time to time, we would have bomb scares, fake bomb scares. I think one time they may have found some dynamite in a – in a locker, but it was really the teachers who, and the student leaders, who worked so hard to ease all of this, and to make the transition smooth. And they really did a tremendous job.
AT THIS POINT ON CAMERA ROLL ON 118, WE'RE 200 FEET IN. CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT THE CHILI INCIDENT WITH MINNIE JEAN BROWN? WHAT HAPPENED, AND HOW THAT MADE YOU FEEL.
I remember lunch was a particularly interesting time at this time, because I —I had the same lunch period as — as the blacks did. We had split lunch. There were a group of — of boys, I don't know how to describe them, but they — they would taunt the black students. And they had to very subtle about it, because there were troops. The 101st was standing maybe twenty feet away, at the door to the cafeteria. And — but the taunts could be heard by the black students. And Minnie Jean had been getting more than her fair share of taunts, because she would— she would talk back. The other –the other black students kept to themselves, and as the Bible says, they would turn the other check. Minnie Jean would snap back at people and so — she immediately that caused her to become a target. These boys had been taunting her at lunch that day, and she very discreetly got up, and as she walked by them, with her bowl of chili, she just proceeded to put it — dump it on top of this fellow's head. And there were — a lot of people started cheering and laughing, but immediately the troops came over, and the guy jumped up, the troops came over to make sure nothing to happen, and got her out. We thought it was kind of funny at our table. It was — as long as the guy didn't get burned, but the chili wasn't that hot apparently, but — but we had seen her do some things that we did not think were — were good for the situation that was going on. Of course, obviously, in retrospect, after they had taken her off, we sat there and talked about it, and then felt like that that was a damaging, particular incident in terms of trying to make – make the integration go smoothly, that she had finally caved in to the point that she did something that was going to be harmful to the overall process. I had — I sat at lunch every day with the same people, and I noticed that there were some times that Ernest Green would come in and sit by himself. The other — other students might have been – other black students might have been elsewhere. So one day I asked Ernest it he'd come join us, for lunch. And he got his tray, and came over and sat down with us. And then I realized it was very awkward to talk with him. Because I began to realize that I didn't have anything in common with him, other than we were in the same school. I couldn't talk about things that you do after – after school, 'cause I didn't know whether the black kids did the same things we did, after school, I mean, that's — that's how segregated we were. I didn't know whether we had any commonality of interests. But, I still wanted him to know there were people there, that cared, and nobody — everybody at our table was glad to have him there. And he sat with us, off and on, most of the time then for the rest of the school year. And we eventually were able to find things in common that we could talk about.
AFTER THE MINNIE JEAN INCIDENT, WERE YOU AWARE — OR EVEN BEFORE THAT INCIDENT, WERE YOU AWARE OF MATERIALS BEING CIRCULATED IN THE SCHOOL, RACIST MATERIALS, HATE MATERIALS?
There was a small group of — oh, maybe fifteen, twenty students, out of the, oh, I guess maybe 1800 or 2000 students, that were hard-core arch segregationists. The rest of us were pretty much moderate in this particular situation. But this hard-core, whose parents were very active in something called the Citizens' Coun— White Citizens' Council, would bring things to school and pass them out. And it was really hate literature. when Minnie Jean, for example, was kicked out of school following the chili incident, they — they brought cards and gave them out, that said "One down, eight to go." When school was out in May, they still hadn't given up the fight. They — they came out with a two-color card, that said, "Ike go home. Liberation day, May 29th, 1958," which was graduation day. They were still fighting the battle even then.** And this went on all during school. It was really disconcerting. It was sad to see them do these things. And I don't think they ever won anybody over, but they did come out and pass these things out, off and on during the school year.
HOW IMPORTANT DID — IN TERMS OF THE STORY GETTING OUT, AND PEOPLE UNDERSTANDING WHAT WAS HAPPENING, OUTSIDE OF LITTLE ROCK, HOW IMPORTANT DO YOU THINK THE NEWSMEN WERE IN THE CRISIS? YOU TALKED ABOUT BEING INTERVIEWED YOURSELF.
Well, I'm in public relations, and I teach journalism at a black college, here in Little Rock.
(THAT WAS A CAMERA ROLL-OUT. WE NOW GO TO 119, NEXT)
HOW IMPORTANT WERE THE NEWS MEDIA IN THIS CRISIS, AND WHAT WERE THEIR ROLES?
I've thought a lot about that through the years. I'm in public relations, and I teach journalism at a black college, here in Little Rock, at night. The thing — I was really upset then. The idea of the liberal eastern press was very evident, to me, as far as I could tell. I really didn't feel like that a balanced story was being given. Throughout the whole year, I — Dr. Benjamin Fine, who was the education editor for the New York Times, was down, and spent a good deal of time here. But I felt like his — his reporting was slanted toward the black viewpoint. And I felt like the moderate white students, who were there for an education, whether it was racially mixed or segregated, their story was never told, to any degree. The sensationalism, of the violence, the sensationalism of federal versus states' rights, these things were uppermost in their minds, and the little — the little people, the students got left behind. There was a great cartoon, editorial cartoon, by the late John Kennedy, in the Arkansas Democrat, in which he showed the students being pulled, in every direction, by a number of different things that went on during this time. That recognized where we were, but in terms of our story being told, on a national level, I don't think it ever was.
I THINK YOU'VE ALREADY DESCRIBED THIS IN PART, BUT CAN YOU TELL ME ABOUT WHAT IT WAS LIKE HAVING THE FEDERAL TROOPS IN THE SCHOOL YOUR SENIOR YEAR. I'M SURE YOU HAD EXPECTATIONS OF WHAT THAT YEAR WAS GOING TO BE, AND THE LAST THING YOU EXPECTED WAS TO SPEND THAT YEAR UNDER ARMED GUARD. HOW'D THAT MAKE YOU FEEL AS A SENIOR?
I knew my senior year was going to be a great year. And I was determined that nothing was going to keep that from happening. It was a real tragedy the way it began, but having to go to school my senior year under federal troops, I was — I figured well, that's the way that it's going to be, I can't let it interfere, I've got to go on and get my education. They were inside the school, but they became invisible after a while. You just— they kind of were sorta like the statue of the tiger there. You just pass by them all the time. And you went on with your schoolwork. You went on with your life, and you went on with developing your relationships with your friends, and planning for the future. It didn't interfere with my education, because I didn't let it interfere with my education.
DID YOU EVER SEEN ANY OF THE HARRASSING INCIDENTS WHERE THE WHITE KIDS ATTACKED OR HARRASSED THE BLACK STUDENTS, ASIDE FROM YOUR EXPERIENCE RAISING THE FLAG. DID YOU SEE ANY THINGS HAPPENING IN THE SCHOOL ITSELF.
Inside the school, I never saw any incidents at all. I never saw any of the supposed pushing and shoving incidents that took place, or any of those things at all, never did.
DO YOU THINK THEY HAPPENED?
Probably, they happened, yes, some of them did. I know some docudramas have sensationalized some of the things – they took a few liberties to make them a little worse than they really were. But some of them did.
WERE YOU HARRASSED YOURSELF BY OTHER STUDENTS WHO DIDN'T APPRECIATE YOUR MORE MODERATE POSITION?
I was harassed to some point, on occasion. I was interviewed back in '58 on national television, and, there were two segregationists, two moderates and two liberal students-. Six students were interviewed. And I was one of the moderates. The segregationists wouldn't even speak to me, because I wasn't a segregationist. When I invited Ernest Green, the only black senior, to join me for lunch, I got some verbal abuse from some students for doing that. But other than that, that was it.
CAN WE STOP FOR A SECOND?
(200 FEET LEFT ON ROLL 119.)
CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT GRADUATION. YOU SAID YOU WANTED TO HAVE A VERY NORMAL, PRODUCTIVE SENIOR YEAR. WAS IT — WAS IT NORMAL EVEN THOUGH ERNEST GREEN WAS THERE, AND LITTLE ROCK, RATHER CENTRAL HIGH WAS GRADUATING ITS FIRST BLACK STUDENT? WHAT WAS THAT LIKE?
Well, graduation was prettty electric. We didn't know what to expect. Graduation in those days was held outdoors in the football stadium. Security was very tight. People had to have passes to get in. It was a time that — we were apprehensive, not knowing what could happen, if anything could happen. We still didn't know whether some outsiders might roll in from some other states, and firebomb the place. So we — we were a little nervous about it. Course we were excited about graduation coming, and the all-night party, and things, that go along with it. As was Ernest, and he stood around joked with the students, we were all joking together there waiting to process in. And I do remember that as the students names were called, and they'd get up and go across the platform and receive their diploma, that I really held my breath when Ernest's name was called.** And he walked up, and I just prayed that nothing would happen. And he got up, and walked over and got his diploma and walked down, and I breathed a sigh of relief. When the last person in line got their diploma, I knew it was all over but the shouting. And it was a tremendous feeling. It was a great feeling of relief, too.
MAYBE YOU CAN DESCRIBE FOR US NOW THE NATIONAL GUARD TROOPS. CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT THE NATIONAL GUARD COMING TO LITTLE ROCK — TO CENTRAL HIGH?
The National Guard, that was there first, was called up by the Governor. And it included everybody, including some of the students from Central High, who, eighteen years old, had just joined the Guard, probably went to summer camp that summer. And they found themselves with rifles, standing there, face to face, with their fellow classmates. I've got a couple of pictures here, of some of the National Guardsmen. It was — it was a funny feeling to see your friends there, with guns, on the campus. And they were very uncomfortable about it, too. They didn't really know. It had come up so suddenly. They didn't know how to react, what to do, they were just following orders. And it was very lackadaisical; it was almost a joke to some of them. They laughed about it. They were very casual about it. And — and they were not as strict, and disciplined, in their actions, as the federal troops that were going to follow them.
BLACKSIDE EYES ON THE PRIZE- LITTLE ROCK, ARKANSAS. INTERVIEW WITH MR. CRAIG RAINES. THIS IS SOUND ROLL 1109. CAMERA ROLL 119
The students came in, and they were a little bit disoriented about where they were. They were looking around, and I remember thinking, well, thank God, this is over, they're in. And we can go on and get things done. And I was — I was almost overjoyed to see them, because I was so sick and tired of all the trash that I'd seen going on outside of the school; which is why I walked up to them to take them to the class — to the off ice, so they could go ahead and get on about their business of going to school. They probably were dressed better than most of us in the school, I remember that. They — the boys had on denim pants, black denim pants, and most of us wore blue jeans. But they – they were very nicely dressed, and I could tell that their hearts must have been pounding clear out of their chests. I could tell from looking at them they were scared to death; that they had finally crossed over the threshold, and gotten inside the school, and I'm sure that there must have been a lot of panic that they felt, too. I never asked them about it, but I just could sense that about them, too.
I THINK THAT IS A WRAP. THAT IS A WRAP ON MR. RAINES. YOU WILL HEAR TWO VOICES.
Because I made the sign that's on the wall there, for opening day. And it only stayed up three days.
WE KNOW IT'S BETWEEN SEPTEMBER 4th and 7th THEN.
I can guarantee it is.
[unintelligible background conversation]
CONCLUDES THE INTERVIEW AT MR. RAINES' HOUSE, LITTLE ROCK, ARKANSAS.