|Intl. Notebook||Feb 5 2010|
The above issue of Confidential is less visually chaotic than usual on the cover, but packs a wallop inside. The communist tag they’ve slapped on Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus stems from his having attended a leftist school. His political opponent in a 1954 election run-off tried to use it against him, but Faubus won anyway. In 1957, Faubus, at the time facing a serious primary challenge from an unapologetic segregationist, called in the National Guard to close high schools in Little Rock in an effort to prevent black students from attending them. The event made him, for a time, the face of the conservative South, as photos of Faubus speaking to crowds from the front stairs of Central High School circulated around the world. Two years afterward, in 1959, Confidential published this issue. So Faubus was branded a leftist, then a rightist. then a leftist again.
Some historians argue that Faubus, who had been elected student body president at that leftist school (Commonwealth College in Mena, Arkansas), harbored few if any racist beliefs, but by closing Little Rock high schools was merely trying to win an election by proving to the sizable racist electorate in Arkansas that, yes, he too could deny equal rights to African Americans. There’s also the question of whether he did it to prevent white mobs from taking violent action against black kids, since he had allegedly been convinced violence was imminent. And it could be argued that if his ultra rightwing rival had defeated him Arkansas would have been far worse off.
The first reading paints Faubus as an opportunist, while the second casts him as more of a good-intentioned pragmatist. Both speak to the reality of politics, where sticking to your principles becomes a dodgy proposition when doing it might cost your job. Viewed from the perspective of a black highschooler, any man who enforces the prevailing system of apartheid is a bad man—political realities nothwithstanding. There's no doubt that bowing to racists and fanatics is cowardly by any measure. So what was Faubus—the man—in the end? We may never know.
Needless to say, quite a furor erupted over the revelations. Even today, you can find apologist websites explaining that Bing’s childrearing techniques were not so harsh for the times, and attack websites that paint him as a murderous tyrant. Phillip Crosby disputed many of the claims inhis brother’s book, but Lindsey and Dennis backed Gary’s account. Their suicides by gunshot, six and eight years later, respectively, serve as the debate’s curious exclamation points. But Bing Crosby—whether monstrous abuser or victim of slander—remains an American icon to this day, and books written by other family members portray him as a loving father. As with Governor Faubus, in the end, we may never know what he really was. Both stories prove the old adage true: History depends on who’s doing the telling.