How familiar are you with the ugly story of the 1959 Black Boys Burning?
A tragedy occurred at the Arkansas Negro Boys’ Industrial School – a juvenile correctional facility for young negroes in Wrightsville, Pulaski County, Arkansas, United States.
A fire that was believed to have been set by an outsider razed the dormitory housing 69 young black boys. At the same time, 48 of them managed to escape through an egress created by a night sergeant, a 16-year-old O. F. Charley Meadows.
The dormitory, which has two exits and was padlocked from outside, was set on fire around 4:00 a.m. on 5th March 1959. The house was filled with 13-17-year-old negroes that were believed to have been there for disciplinary reasons. One of them was reportedly administered there because he rode a white boy’s bicycle even after the white boy’s mother admitted to the authorities that she was aware.
Others were there for some petty stealing, crimes, violent acts, and homelessness.
Forty-eight of these young African-American boys clawed outside of the room through an egress. Simultaneously, the remaining 21 were unfortunately burnt beyond recognition with their bodies piled up in the charred building corner.
Fourteen of the dead bodies were wrapped and buried at the Haven of Rest Cemetery, Arkansas, while the remaining seven were buried in an undisclosed graveyard.
Marking the 50th anniversary of the fire incident that had remained unsolved, the victims’ families organized a press conference at the Arkansas Capitol. Gracing the anniversary was the segregationist Arkansas Governor, Orval Faubus, mandated a committee to investigate the fire’s cause.
Over sixty years after the ugly incident, a memorial to the dead was inaugurated at the Wrightsville Unit of the Arkansas Department of Correction, formerly the Arkansas Negro Boys’ Industrial School.
According to one Lawrence Frank, who happens to be 14-year-old Lindsey Cross‘ brother (one of the victims), he believed that it was a well-planned murder planned for 69 black boys.
Lawrence, who made it his life task vowed to uncover the secret behind what he termed the “Secret Holocaust.”
He went further to accuse Governor Orval’s incompetence, saying the incident was planned to prevent more embarrassment in Arkansas.
Before the black boys burning, during the Desegregation Crisis in 1957, the governor asked the National Guard to prevent from entering Little Rock’s all-white Central High School, but President Dwight Eisenhower rejected it.
That resulted in the ‘Lost Year’ 1958/1959, the governor closed Little Rock High Schools.