In 1957, Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, accepted nine black students, while white parents jeered and protested. President Dwight D. Eisenhower sent in the 101st Airborne to safeguard the students and to carry out the order of a federal judge.

That was sixty years ago.

How much has changed? Now Little Rock’s public schools are segregated again. At the behest of the Walton Family (which owns Arkansas), the public schools were taken over by the state. The man in charge is not, never was, an educator. The ostensible reason for the takeover was that six of the city’s 48 schools were “failing.” Since then, three of the 48 schools have been closed. More are on the chopping block, including schools with a long and honorable history.

Barclay Key, a historian at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, writes the sad story of the past sixty years here. (What! The Walton family forgot to buy the history department!)

It appears that the Walton family wants to turn Little Rock into the next New Orleans, the next Memphis. It wants to wipe out public schools and replace them with charters. It wants to silence the voice of local citizens and give them no role in determining the future of their schools.

Key writes:

The two most striking parallels between the past and present are the insistence by white leaders that they know what is best for Black families and students and the recurrent role that local white business leaders play in undermining the public school system and prioritizing their prerogatives for the city…

Sixty years ago Little Rock epitomized desegregation struggles in the South, but the city now follows a path worn by New Orleans, Memphis, and other cities wracked by the proliferation of charter schools. Like they have over the past sixty years, politicians and business leaders presume to know what is best for public schools, and their decisions reflect a preoccupation with the latest trends in business rather than research-based pedagogy. The replacement for the elected board, state education commissioner Johnny Key, was appointed by the new Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson despite having no experience as an educator. Key appointed a superintendent who was generally trusted by the city’s white elites, but that superintendent was promptly replaced when he openly criticized the inefficiency of expanding charter schools in a district that has been gradually losing students for years. With the exception of reconstituting one school, the state made no substantive changes at the distressed schools.

“Reflections of Progress” will serve as the theme for the sixtieth anniversary of the desegregation crisis. Things have certainly changed, but the standard is too low if we measure progress by events that unfolded in 1957. Reflecting on progress since 1967 would be more appropriate and sobering. White men again make all decisions for the school district. They act with the support of the Chamber of Commerce and, today, the Walton charter school lobby controlled by the state’s powerful Walton family. Since the state takeover, many of the same bureaucrats have their six-figure salaries. Many of the same children cannot read. Little Rock periodically commemorates the 1957 controversy, but it constantly relives 1967.

The Walton Family Foundation is engraved on this blog’s Wall of Shame. It doesn’t stand alone, but it has a place of pre-eminence on a wall that lists those who have used their money and power to betray democracy, public schools, and the American dream.