On September 4th, 1958, 45 white students at Van Buren High School staged a strike to protest the enrollment of 13 black students. Although they were expelled for striking, their tactics were effective in both keeping the 13 away while also gaining the attention of the national media.
On Sunday, Sept. 5, Angie Evans was sitting in a pew at St. John's Methodist Church with her family. At the time, Angie was just beginning her junior year at Van Buren High School. According to fellow classmate (and now husband David Benham), Angie's character had gained her much respect over the years, even from the upper classes. They had so much respect for her in fact, that they had elected Angie as the student body president for her junior year.
Now as Angie sat in church, her character and courage would be tested to the limits by a quote from the Reverand; “Democracy is a rule of the majority but it is the function of the majority to protect the rights of the minority." Integration was a VERY hot topic at that time. And although most of the older generation of adults were extremely opposed to it, the younger and more open-minded generation of young people was slowly coming around. Sensing that many students shared her support of integration, 15 year old Angie decided to take a poll of the student body and as it turned out, she was right. While a majority of the parents and school officials were opposed to integration, 84% of the students actually supported it. Armed with this newfound information, Angie spoke up at a meeting of The White Citizen's Council, a local group effort to stop integration. Of course being white herself, Angie was given permission to speak. Little did they know what she had to say. After sharing her information, Angie politely posed a question to the meeting attendees.“Have you thought what you make those Negro children feel like, running them out of school?” she asked?"
It would be Sept 22, 1958 before the black students returned to school. And when they did, only 8 of the 13 came back. But they did come back. And as you well know, slowly but surely the tide turned. In standing up for what she believed, Angie had played a pivotal role in changing the hearts and minds of the locals and ultimately, the nation.Time magazine called Angie the “pretty Ozark Joan of Arc,” Mademoiselle magazine named her one of its women of the year. And people wrote to her, as well. Individuals sent fan mail and letters of encouragement and praise, along with death threats and letters spewing profuse hatred and disdain.
Looking back, the experience taught Angie that one little act of kindness can have remarkable effects. And 56 years later, she still wholeheartedly believes that. For me, Angie is a true hero; someone who acted on an injustice because they just knew it wasn't right. It didn't matter that it wasn't popular. It didn't matter that it was such a hot topic. All that mattered was that it was simply wrong. And armed with what little persuasion she had, she took her best stab at making things right. As it turns out, she's got a pretty good arm :)
I met Angie a couple weeks ago at her home to create some images for a magazine article. Upon our arrival, she treated us to coffee and pastries while asking loads of questions about family and origins. And when we started working with the camera, she remained pleasant and talkative. As I mentioned before, Angie married her high school classmate David who is an ordained minister in the Episcopal Church. She lives a quiet life helping at the church and enjoying her grandchildren. Here are a few images from our time with Angie. Enjoy.