by Coshandra Dillard
Most Americans have learned, or at least heard, about the Little Rock Nine courageously walking to their Arkansas high school in 1957, escorted by federal troops past a mob of hate-spewing racists. But few of us know that this flashpoint in American history was preceded — and maybe even made possible — thanks to a similar event in a small farming town a year before.
When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, it was supposed to mark the end of “separate but equal” in schools. While many schools, primarily those in West and South Texas, complied with the ruling, others remained segregated. Among them was the the town of Mansfield, about 20 miles southeast of Fort Worth, whose residents fought a 10-year battle against integration.
It started on August 27, 1956, when Federal Judge Joe Estes — following months of back and forth between his court and the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals — issued the state’s first-ever court order for a school to desegregate. Three days later, when Floyd Moody, Nathaniel Jackson, and Charles Moody attempted to register for the fall semester at Mansfield High, Superintendent R.L. Huffman reportedly told one of the students he’d never enter the school. The next day, Governor Allan Shivers sent Texas Rangers to maintain law and order in the event black students tried to enroll again. Defiance of the judge’s orders trickled up and down: Mansfield’s mayor and police chief were complicit, as was President Dwight D. Eisenhower, with whom Gov. Shivers was in good standing.
Shivers, like so many white southerners in positions of power, was a fervent supporter of “state’s rights.” Following Brown v. Board of Education, he’d assembled the Texas Advisory Committee on Segregation in Public Schools, a group dedicated to fighting “forced integration” and other “problems.” In fact, in the run-up to Brown v. Board of Education, Shivers sent a letter to the president. “I see in this unusual Supreme Court invitation an attempt to embarrass you and your Attorney General,” he wrote. “There is nothing more local than the public school system. The decision in these cases will have a wide influence in the future economic and political life of our nation, particularly in the 17 southern and southwestern states where this problem is being solved on the local level as it must and should be.”
At the time of the so-called integration “problem,” 56 out of Mansfield’s school district’s 756 students were black, and African Americans were only offered an education through the eighth grade. Public school buses were simply not an option. If black students wanted to continue their education, they had to ride on a Continental Trailways bus to I.M. Terrell High School in Fort Worth.
Five African American students who planned to enroll in Mansfield High School stand in front of a Mansfield Independent School District bus on August 31, 1956
Tom Pilkington, a Mansfield High student at the time, chronicled the events in his 1998 book, State of Mind: Texas Literature and Culture. “On Thursday, August 30, and Friday, August 31, days set aside for registration, mobs of up to five hundred people gathered on the spacious grounds in front of the old brown-brick high school. The worst of the protests occurred on Friday. The Tarrant County district attorney, down from his headquarters in Fort Worth, was pummeled by a swarm of angry men who openly threatened to use guns if necessary to prevent implementation of the court order.”
Protesters hung black effigies and held racist signs. An Episcopal minister and a photographer were among those physically assaulted by people in the crowd. Downtown stores closed in in solidarity with the protesters, while some anti-integrationists supporters tried to keep civil rights activists out of town.
Following the Mansfield Crisis, government officials, in their quest to find a scapegoat, turned their attention on the NAACP.
Mansfield protesters backed by the Texas Rangers threatened any African American entering the High School would be “gator bait”
Civilians were happy to join in. As a Texan named Early Northrup wrote in a letter to Governor Shivers, “This should be justification for the jailing of all NAACP officials and to throw out the whole organization from the state of Texas for attempting to create riots.”
Texas Attorney General John Ben Shepperd launched an investigation into the NAACP and obtained a temporary restraining order to force all branches to stop operations. He charged the organization with barratry — coercing plaintiffs into filing lawsuits — and accused the group of low-level tax evasion. The state found the perfect venue to try the case; about 130 miles east of Mansfield, Tyler, Texas, was an overwhelmingly pro-segregation city, which would later be faced with its own federal school desegregation order.
The NAACP viewed the use of the Texas Rangers in Mansfield as an attempt to maintain segregation
After 17 days of testimony, District Judge Otis T. Dunagan placed a temporary restraining order on the NAACP. He’d later place a permanent injunction and impose a list of restrictions that made it exceedingly difficult for the group to continue its work in Texas. Against the wishes of NAACP Secretary Roy Wilson, the board of directors filed an appeal, although it was later withdrawn. Thurgood Marshall, who represented the NAACP at the time and would go on to become the first African American Supreme Court Justice, called the case “the greatest crisis” in the organization’s history.
Marshall was right. Alabama and Virginia would go on to bring similar cases against the NAACP. And a year later, in Arkansas, Governor Orval Faubus, emboldened by the results of Texas’s fight against the Mansfield Three and the NAACP, took a stand against integration when the Little Rock Nine attempted to get the education they were entitled to by law. This time, however, Eisenhower sent the National Guard to force integration and protect black students.
Over in Texas, meanwhile, schools continued to defy court orders, particularly in the northeast part of the state.
Integration would not be vigorously pursued in the Lone Star state until 1970, when William Wayne Justice, chief judge of the United States District Court for the Eastern District, ordered the Texas Education Agency to assume responsibility of enforcing desegregation in Texas public schools.
Today, Mansfield High School is a lot more diverse, with 37.3 percent white students, 26.5 percent black students, 24.7 percent Hispanic, and 6.4 percent Asian. At least 22 Texas school districts are still monitored by the U.S. Department of Justice to ensure they’re following desegregation orders.
The controversy subsided, but Mansfield public schools would not integrate until after the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, some seven years later.
Texas Ranger Captain Jay Banks with students in front of Mansfield High School. Note the effigy hanging above the front door.
So why was his statue removed in Dallas yesterday?
Because the statue depicts Capt. Jay Banks. The captain was in charge of a Ranger contingent dispatched in 1957 by then-Gov. Allan Shivers to keep black students from enrolling in Mansfield’s high school High School and a Texarkana community college despite court rulings that should have prevented Shivers from doing so.
Doug Swanson author of Cult of Glory, a new book that even before its release prompted Dallas Officials to remove the statue. Swanson tells his former newspaper that “Banks became sort of the face for that because there’s a famous picture of him leaning against a tree in front of Mansfield High School while a black figure hangs in effigy above the school, with Banks making no effort to take it down.
“And Banks sided with the mobs who were there to keep the black kids out. So, he was the face of that and of a statue that welcomes people to Dallas,”
Swanson noted that the title of the sculpture, One Riot, One Ranger, takes on a chilling undertone when considering something the former Pulitzer finalist writes about in Cult of Glory. It involved a scene at the Grayson County Courthouse in Sherman in 1930, when a black man stood trial for assaulting a white woman.
The Texas Ranger Dispatch published an article about Captain Jay in 2017. In regard to Mansfied Texas they report the following exceprted from Jay Banks autobiography, “Cast a long shadow”
Mansfield, Texas, Integration Case
Integration created many explosive situations throughout the
United States in 1956. Mansfield, Texas, was no exception.
Feeling ran high throughout the community. In an effort to
defuse the ticking time bomb, Governor Allen Shivers ordered the
Rangers onto the town’s school campus. Sergeant Banks and his
fellow Rangers kept things quite and peaceful. The Rangers let it
be known to all involved that they were not on anyone’s side:
their only job was to keep the peace. And keep the peace they
did, all without having to use any excessive force. With their
evenhanded display of impartiality, Jay and the Rangers gained
not only the respect of the locals, but also the public gratitude of
state and federal authorities.
In the words of a longtime Mansfield Texas resident of how the story was told for over 50 years and what the truth actually was
1956 wasn’t the only time there were racial tensions in Mansfield Texas. In 1961, John Howard Griffen, the author of “Black Like Me” moved to Mansfield. The book describes his six-week experience travelling on Greyhound buses (occasionally hitchhiking) throughout the racially segregated states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia passing as a black man. The whites in Mansfield rioted again, hung black effigies in Griffens front yard, and threatened to kill him. Griffen moved.
I have located one of the original three students that were bused to FWISD in 1956. His name is TL Moody, and has been a pastor at a Fort Worth church for many years.
Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins