In today’s society, African American boys and men live the harsh reality of feeling the world around them often fear and are intimidated by the color of their skin or simply their presence. Being marked as a “threat” to society dates back to years of discrimination, police brutality, and historical events for centuries. Most of which have been overlooked or swept under the rug and never spoken about or given justice.
61 years ago, 69 Black children, ages 13-17 were locked in a school left to burn alive. March 5, 1959, The Negro Boys Industrial School in Wrightsville, Arkansas was locked from the outside and intentionally set on fire with little black boys fighting for their life.
The immensely poor living conditions directly affected the reform school for African American young men who were orphans, homeless, or accused of committing petty offenses.
All sixty-nine boys resided in only one room and barely had one-foot between one another. The only option was to use the bathroom in buckets.
This time period was known as the Jim Crow Era when Arkansas was in a battle in 1957. Former Governor, Orval Faubus called all the states’ National Guard and prevent nine Black students from visiting Central High School, an all-white school in Little Rock.
In a 1956 report by sociologist Gordon Morgan, he stated most boys went without socks and underwear with only rags as clothing. Not to mention they were expected to use thirty gallons of water to bathe.
There were also reports of the authorities entering the crime scene the next morning and discovering bodies pilled on top of one another lifeless. Only forty-eight survived what America wants us to believe was an “accident”.
59 years later one survivor of the fire demanded attention and revealing the truth of what happened that night. Frank Lawrence states in an article with local Arkansas channel 7 KATV,
“Everyone wants to conclude that it was an accident to prevent putting more embarrassment on the state of Arkansas or Orval Faubus”
Although it was against the law for authorities to tamper with the crime scene, police allegedly entered the scene with hoses, rakes, and shovels.
The parents of the murder victims were told to enter the scene and identify a body part for cremation or burial of their children. A large hole was dug and labeled a grave according to reports. The victims were allegedly taken to a funeral home and wrapped in newspaper. Fourteen of the victims were disgusting disposed of into the hole. The remaining seven victims were buried privately by their families. Months later a bronze plaque was purchased by the state to serve as a grave marker.
Arkansas thought a little hush money would be the trick in keeping this horrific event in history under wraps. In September 1959, the Claims Commission of Arkansas awarded $2,500 estates to twenty-one victims. Survivor Frank Lawrence stated his family only received $1,400. In Experiencing such a traumatic event, 59 years later Lawrence desired to use his bravery not only to uncover this hidden history but also ensure his brothers’ remains were disposed of properly and buried in his family’s funeral plot in Arkansas.
Lawrence had great intentions of releasing a book called “Locked in And Burned: America’s Secret Holocaust” in 2017 to piggyback off of Author, Griffin Stockley’s book titled, “Black Boys Burning” to recall that night’s tragedy. However, presently there are no books on the market other than “black Boys Burning.”
Years later America still remains a place where discrimination takes place. Black men are criminalized and killed due to police brutalities every day and it ends up being a huge mystery. In fact, it is the main reason the black lives matter movement began and resulted in peaceful protests across the country. We are fed up! The conversation must remain at the forefront! Sixty-Nine African American men were lost in a fire sixty-one years ago and we are STILL fighting the same fight to receive justice today.
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