Ethel Tompkins was still a school girl when she and some 25 other students made history at Hoxie Schools. Tompkins, one of the students who first integrated the school system in 1955, recalled her experiences Tuesday at the Cultural Awareness Luncheon at Williams Baptist University.
Pictured above, Tompkins chats with Dr. Blake Perkins, chair of the WBU Department of History & Political Science.
Tompkins told the WBU crowd what it was like moving from the segregated black school in Hoxie to the previously all-white school. While some of her African-American classmates and their families endured death threats and other intimidation, Tompkins said the move for her was relatively smooth. “I played with many of those girls on weekends, so we already knew and liked each other,” she said of her white classmates.
She said the way she was raised prepared her to deal with situations like the Hoxie Schools integration. “It helped that my father always told me that I was as good as anyone else, so whenever I walked into a room I felt like I belonged there,” she recalled.
In 1961, Tompkins became the first African-American graduate of Hoxie High School.
The Cultural Awareness Luncheon also included a reading of works by several prominent African-American poets by Melanie McKuin, president of the WBU Student Government Association, and a vocal performance by freshman Brianna Williams. The luncheon was presented as part of WBU’s observance of Black History Month.
Williams is a private, Christian university in Walnut Ridge.