BALTIMORE — If you scour the annals of Little Rock’s racial history, the name Lothaire Scott Green isn’t likely to be listed among the better-known Black icons and power brokers of Arkansas’ capital city. Yet this genteel Southern lady, stalwart public school teacher and intrepid mother of three, including Ernest Green of the Little Rock Nine and the first Black graduate of Central High School, came to symbolize for her family and community what it meant to take a stand.
In the 1940s, Scott Green rallied with her fellow Black teacher Suzie Morris, who, with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund attorney Thurgood Marshall, sued the Little Rock schools, demanding equal pay. It was Scott Green who risked family and her job when she ushered attorney Marshall into their home — a pristine Craftsman bungalow on West 21st Street — when he came to Little Rock to work on the lawsuit.
Thanks to her daughter, one of Scott Green’s greatest academic accomplishments will be publicly celebrated during the commencement at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville this Saturday. Sixty years ago, Scott Green was one of a handful of Black graduate students who managed to earn degrees in 1951 from the state’s White flagship institution. They were made to take classes off campus in trailers and were ultimately barred from participating in graduation ceremonies.
The short e-mail Treopia Washington sent to University of Arkansas Chancellor G. David Gearhart this past January 4 has sparked an outpouring of regret, a pledge to “make things right” and what Scott Green’s family wanted — the opportunity to receive their mother’s master’s degree in education during a public graduation ceremony.
“… As the years passed, particularly after her death in 1976, we have wished that one of us could accomplish what she was denied — to receive that degree, in person, on campus,” Washington wrote Gearhart.
Still etched in her mind, Washington, who was about 14 then, recalls the day her mother received the box containing her graduation hood, diploma and a letter from the university that basically said, you have satisfied your degree requirements, but don’t bother showing up for commencement. You won’t be welcome.
“This honor represents a great moment for the family,” says Ernest Green. “I’m very proud of my sister for pursuing this and I applaud the University of Arkansas for stepping up and giving my mother this opportunity.”
Gearhart was about seven years old when the university dealt Scott Green that stinging blow of denial and paid lip service to campus integration.
“What happened to Mrs. Green was simply wrong. When I received the e-mail from Mrs. Washington that day, I was simply heartbroken,” he says. “While it is hard to right the wrongs of the past — it was 60 years ago, but it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t take this opportunity to make things right by acknowledging and addressing what happened.”
Gearhart says he will share Scott Green’s story and present Washington with her mother’s degree at the start of the graduation ceremony.
“I’m looking forward to allowing the family to have their day, although their mother was denied her day in the sun at graduation,” he says.
By the time she began her graduate studies, Scott Green was a working mother with an undergraduate degree in home economics from the historically Black Wilberforce College, being pursued by New York’s prestigious Pratt Institute and teaching at the Black Dunbar High School in Little Rock.
Reflecting on his mother’s life, Green says her ability to stay focused on her goals, despite being denied the opportunity to attend her graduation, “is probably what made her so supportive of my decision to go to Central (High School).” Earning her master’s degree, says Green “was an important part of her career and the denial she experienced when she couldn’t graduate was another slight.”
Despite the backdrop of segregation, “College was just a part of what we did,” says Washington of the Black families that made up her world in Little Rock. They were the ones, Washington says, who embodied “middle class values” and believed in the relentless pursuit of education and community uplift. “Most of my teachers in my high school had master’s degrees and my principal had a doctorate,” recalls Washington, who is now vice president of partnerships and Minority affairs at the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.
Forced to take some of her classes, usually on Saturdays, in three parts of the state — anywhere but on the flagship campus in Fayetteville, “Mrs. Green was extraordinary for what she accomplished,” says Charles Robinson II, the university’s new vice provost for diversity.
For a time, the university boasted of being the first higher education institution in the South to admit Black students, but “its actions didn’t live up to that title,” says Robinson. If Scott Green could visit her alma mater today, she would find a big, bustling campus of nearly 23,000 students, of which only 5 percent are Black, says Robinson, a history professor and co-editor of the 2010 book Remembrances in Black: Personal Perspectives of the African American Experience at the University of Arkansas.
But “the beautiful part of the university’s story, and Mrs. Green’s story,” Robinson says, “is that things are so different now than they were in the past.”