Arkansas Negro Boys' Industrial School
The Arkansas Negro Boys' Industrial School was a juvenile correctional facility for black male children in Arkansas.
As of March 1959 the Wrightsville school had 69 boys aged between 14 and 17. Most of them were convicted of minor and petty crimes; however, some boys having no criminal record lived at the school solely because their families were dysfunctional and they had nowhere else to live. The boys lived in a 1936 Works Progress Administration building described by TIME as "rickety."
In the pre-dawn morning of March 5, 1959, a fire started in the dormitory of the Wrightsville facility. The doors in the dormitory were locked, so the boys could not escape. Charley Meadows, a 16-year-old night sergeant, broke open one window, allowing for egress. 48 boys managed to escape, while 21 died. The families of the deceased said that authorities told them that 14 of the dead boys were wrapped in newspapers and deposited in an unmarked grave. Some family members were skeptical of the account the officials gave of the burial. On the 50th anniversary of the fire, the families held a press conference at the Arkansas Capitol.
Governor of Arkansas Orval Faubus asked a committee to investigate the fire. The committee concluded that the correctional facility, the State of Arkansas, and the local community held responsibility for the incident, but recommended no course of action. A KTHV report said that "somehow the story faded into the backdrop of the Civil Rights Movement."
The land once occupied by the unit now houses the Arkansas Department of Correction Wrightsville Unit. There are no markers there that indicate that the boys school existed or that the fire occurred.
- "1936 Jefferson County, Arkansas Highway Map." Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department. Retrieved on September 28, 2011.
- "1936 Pulaski County, Arkansas Highway Map." Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department. Retrieved on September 28, 2011.
- "ARKANSAS: Locked In." TIME. Monday March 16, 1959. Retrieved on March 9, 2011.
- "KTHV Extra: Arkansas' Secret Holocaust." KTHV. Retrieved on March 9, 2011.
- "Wrightsville Fire 50 Years Later." Mone't, Ebone'. KTHV. Retrieved on March 9, 2011.