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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Daniel H. Pollitt, November 27, 1990. Interview L-0064-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Refusal to sign loyalty oath at the University of Arkansas

Pollitt begins by describing efforts to integrate local schools in Fayetteville, Arkansas, when he first went to teach at the University of Arkansas in 1955. Although Pollitt argues that initial efforts were smooth, he explains that shortly after the Little Rock incident, state legislators pushed through legislation requiring educators to disclose membership in the NAACP. Pollitt, who was a member, refused to sign the loyalty oath because he viewed it as a violation of civil liberties and he resigned his position shortly thereafter.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Daniel H. Pollitt, November 27, 1990. Interview L-0064-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

So there weren't more than a hundred in the whole law school if that. And there were seven faculty members. So it was a very close-knit small group. It was a very nice pleasant group. So we enjoyed it, but it was '55 and Brown against school board was '54 and '55. They had the school integration problems and what they'd been doing…. This was Fayetteville, Arkansas. They didn't have a black high school. They'd driven the black high school students to Fort Smith which was about sixty miles away and you have to go up and over some mountains and things. So the school bus would leave for Fort Smith at 6:30 or something and get back around 6:30 and then the bus broke down or something, so they figured instead of repairing the bus, they'd just integrate. So the blacks students came into the white high school. There was a black primary and a white primary school and they just said, "Everybody on this side of town goes here and the other side of town goes to the other." But our first year there, which was 1955, a young black kid went out for the football team.
ANN MCCOLL:
At the high school?
DANIEL POLLITT:
At the high school. And he made the squad, but he didn't make the team. He weighed about 130 pounds. So the traditional Thanksgiving day game was with Springdale, if I'm right, which was twenty miles up the road. They wouldn't play unless we left the black kid at home. The team voted not to go. The kid is on the squad. He goes where they go. And if they don't like it…. So they cancelled the traditional Thanksgiving day high school game, so I was very proud of that. But then things got tough in Arkansas and I got active in NAACP affairs. There were a couple of school integration problems which were pretty ugly.
ANN MCCOLL:
With violence?
DANIEL POLLITT:
Well, we had a lawyer's meeting and we'd met in the guy's basement and we came at fifteen minute intervals or something. There were five of us. So nobody would know we were there. And then came Faubus. Governor Faubus was elected. He was a liberal. He did a complete turn about once he got elected governor. Arkansas then was a liberal state. The governor was Sid McMath and he was a fairly young Marine major veteran who had been a lawyer and head of the Young Democrats. He went off to World War II and came back with a lot of decorations. He became the DA in Hot Springs which is where they have hot springs and they had gambling there. He drove out the gamblers. So he was honest and clean and young and a veteran and a lawyer, so he ran for governor and got elected. And the coalition that really put him there was organized later. And the NAACP and the REA, the Rural Electrical Association, that was the coalition that made him the governor. So when his four years were over, his hand-picked successor was Roy Bill Faubus who was highway commissioner or something like that. Faubus is the one who put Central High School off limits to the blacks and Eisenhower had to send in the 82nd Airborne.
ANN MCCOLL:
There was a case on that wasn't there?
DANIEL POLLITT:
Yes, it went to the Supreme Court. But Little Rock was the big thing. So what they did was, the Legislature…. Again, this is crazy. Right after World War II a number of states passed loyalty oath laws which were disclaimer laws and you had to swear that you were not a member of any organization on the Attorney General's list. And the Attorney General of the United States had compiled a list of subversive organizations so called, to be used in connection with the loyalty security hearings for government employees. So a number of states had passed these. There had been a state senator from Little Rock who was a plumbing contractor or something and he had introduced these bills whenever the Legislature met and they'd always been denied. They'd always voted them down. Well, then at about the time that they started to integrate Central High School and Faubus was going crazy, this guy had a heart attack and he went to the hospital and they thought he would die. So his fellow legislators said, "Gee, you know, we ought to pass his bill as a final mark and show of affection or something." So they passed his bill. So that required all state employees, including me, to swear that we were not a member of any organization on the Attorney General's list. Then at the same time, or a little bit later, not much later, they passed another act which says that you had to swear you were not a member of the NAACP or contributed to the NAACP and that if you had you would be fired from the State appointment. That was later modified to say…. Well, that was struck down by a District Court judge because a lot of blacks were school teachers and members of the NAACP. There was a suit filed in the District Court that you can't fire the teachers because of membership, whereupon they then took away all tenure and passed a law saying that you have to list all your organizations and they have to be open to the public. So what happened if you listed NAACP and it would be open to the public, your contract would not be renewed at the end of the year. That was the scheme. So they had these acts. There's a woman named Daisy Bates who was a very attractive, fairly young black woman who was the head of the state NAACP and they subpoenaed her and wanted her to bring the records and she wouldn't do it. There was Bates against Arkansas; a Supreme Court case. So all these things were going on in Arkansas and I decided I wasn't going to sign the disclaimer.
ANN MCCOLL:
Is this the one that required you to say about the NAACP or the state one?
DANIEL POLLITT:
Well, both. I wasn't going to sign anything.