Louis Armstrong entertained students in 1955 in the Men's Gym. At the height of the Central High Crisis two years later, however, Armstrong's return engagement was cancelled.
During the 1950s, the races followed separate cultural lives on the UA campus, and The Traveler rarely mentioned African-American students in its columns. In 1952, the paper covered the campaign and election of George Howard, then a third-year law student, as president of Lloyd Halls. Howard campaigned on a platform of providing better lounge facilities for the halls and more washing machines. He asked fellow members of his residence halls to “forget my physical stature and forget that I’m a black boy,” and then he asked them to vote for him based on his qualifications for the office. They did, and he won.
More often, though, The Traveler’s coverage of racial issues during the 1950s reflected the majority white sentiment of the day. It gave tepid support for integration or supported segregation outright. After a mob ousted the first student who tried to integrate the University of Alabama, The Traveler editor, Ronnie Farrar, wrote that “mob action” was sometimes required and that the students at the University of Alabama should not be condemned for attempting to uphold their belief in segregation.
Two years later, The Traveler again sided with segregationists when the federal government ordered the integration of Central High School in Little Rock. The Traveler initially ignored the issue editorially, but it did run news stories from the United Press about the conflict between Governor Orval Faubus and President Dwight D. Eisenhower concerning the admission of nine black students to Central High.
However, the paper did not stay out of the fray altogether. The editor, Sammy Smith, wrote a front-page news story about comments by Louis Armstrong and his manager regarding an upcoming appearance by the jazz trumpeter on the university campus. Armstrong had first played at the University of Arkansas two years earlier, and the Student Senate had again contracted with him to play a concert.
The Traveler reported that Armstrong’s manager in New York had referred to the new contract as “a great moral victory” and that Armstrong had told the press that he resented that Governor Faubus would be listening “to those beautiful notes that will come from my horn. ... He doesn’t deserve them.”
The statements caused a disturbance among the white students and administrators. Jack Davis, the president of Associated Students, and D. Whitney Halladay, the dean of students, said they did not expect an entertainment contract to be used as a “springboard for ill-advised statements” or that it would involve the student body, the university or the state in controversy. The Student Senate met that day and voted to rescind the contract with Armstrong and was backed up by President John Tyler Caldwell. In The Traveler’s first editorial page following the incident, the editor supported the Student Senate’s “prompt efficient action” in canceling Armstrong’s contract:
Hasty and ill-advised ventures have in the past given the University a shaky reputation with many people downstate. To uphold the Armstrong contract would be taken by many as approval of derogatory remarks about Arkansas and its chief executive. This, the University cannot afford. ... Your senate proved to be more than a group whose chief function is to select queens and send delegates to conventions. It showed itself to be a clear thinking governing body with the best interests of the school and state at heart.
Letters to the editor in the same edition showed that not all the student body agreed with the decision. One writer said that the university had taken a step toward segregation in canceling the contract, while another facetiously wrote: “Hurrah! Arkansas has finally ‘seen the light’ and joined Mississippi and Russia to make it the Big Three.”
The Arkansas Traveler. October 9, 1952.
Ibid., February 14, 1956.
Ibid., September 26, 1957.
Ibid., October 22, 1957.