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In Little Rock, snow and other kinds of 'White Christmas'

December 23, 2012|By Matt Pearce
  • Elizabeth Eckford, one of the "Little Rock Nine," being followed by an angry mob as she tries to enter Central High School in Little Rock, Ark., in 1957.
Elizabeth Eckford, one of the "Little Rock Nine," being followed… (Ruder Finn Arts )

White Christmases have been so rare in Little Rock, Ark., that you could almost count them on both hands since recordkeeping began in 1875. Hard winters, after all, visit this part of the South somewhat infrequently.

But in this city's history, white Christmas has sometimes held a figurative meaning.

This year, the white Christmas could be meteorological: According to the National Weather Service's Little Rock office, a storm gathering over the southern Plains could bring 1 to 3 inches of snow Tuesday. It would be part of a larger system that's expected to cut through Colorado and the lower Midwest on its way to the Northeast by the end of the week.

If the storm comes to pass it would be the first time since 1926 that snow has arrived here on Christmas Day and stayed on the ground. That year, Little Rock started its zoo, which at that point consisted of a wolf and a bear. The city also got its first skyscraper and radio station.

A real white Christmas typically meant leftover snow from earlier powerful storms, like in 2004, 1990 and 1963. A freak 10-inch snowfall three days before Christmas in 1963 meant 4 inches was still on the ground for the holiday.

But 1957 saw a "White Christmas" storm of a different kind.

That was the year of school desegregation and the Little Rock Nine, who had to be escorted into Central High School by the 101st Airborne after Arkansas' pro-segregation governor ordered state National Guard troops to block the students' entry. 

At the request of Little Rock's mayor, President Eisenhower sent federal troops. 

"It will be a sad day for this country -- both at home and abroad -- if schoolchildren can safely attend their classes only under the protection of armed guards," Eisenhower said in a September 1957 statement that is recirculating in the days since the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Connecticut.

There would be no snow for the holiday in 1957, and some segregationists were concerned there wouldn't be a "White Christmas" song either.

According to a December 1957 Associated Press report, rumors flourished that Central High School's principal had forbidden students to sing the Bing Crosby classic because a black student supposedly had complained. School officials denied the rumors.

1957 was also the Christmas season when some white Little Rock residents tried to boycott Arkansas Gazette advertisers, saying in a letter that the paper "has played a leading role in breaking down our segregation laws, destroying time-honored traditions that have made up our Southern way of life, and at last bringing upon the people of Little Rock the most insufferable outrage ever visited upon an American city." 

All of which makes a snowstorm seem far less consequential.

Less than a week ago, one local TV station directed residents to see the Irving Berlin production at the local repertory theater instead if they really wanted to have a white Christmas.

"There's nothing quite like a white Christmas," a KTHV reporter wrote. "And while we won't actually have one here in Arkansas, you can still experience one at The Rep. "

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