The Boycott of Marianna Lee High School’s Basketball Team: Part 2

Below is Part 2 of a two-part series on the 1972 strike by nearly every member of the Lee High basketball team. Read Part 1 here.

The strike began soon after January 13 as part of a larger boycott involving African-American students at Lee High in Marianna, Ark. The only member of the basketball team, coached by James Banks, who stayed on was its sole white player.

One of the reasons for the student strike* was that the African-American students (and many of their parents) wanted  an official observance of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday. School officials agreed to talk to five or 10 of the students but not to the whole group. The students at first refused, but later agreed to a meeting with then school superintendent Dr. H.C. “Buddy” Dial, according to an April 20, 1972 Gazette article by Wayne Jordan. Jordan added:

“Witnesses have said it wasn’t the policy of the school to dismiss classes or hold an assembly in honor of a person’s birthday other than Jesus Christ’s”

Bob Blankenship, the principal of Lee County, told the Arkansas Democrat that the strike—and the cancellation of the season it caused—hurt more than sports. “We’re all distressed, from top to bottom, not only the coaches but everybody. The good, strong athletic program is probably the best morale builder you have in high school. The loss of basketball will affect the morale of these students who are in school and those who are not, not only now but in the future also.”

According to the Gazette, Marianna’s Lee High had 1,000 students, 80% of whom were African-American. In the year before the strike, 200 whites had moved to nearby Lee Academy, a private school.

*The students’ strike came on the heels of a community-wide economic boycott which started the previous summer. Marianna’s black Concerned Citizens group organized a boycott against white-owned businesses on June 11, 1971 which lasted until at least February 1972. In that span, 13 businesses closed.

Meanwhile, leaders of the Citizens Council, a group advocating segregation, said it had experienced a sharp increase of members to reach 300 members. (Arkansas Gazette, 2.11.1972).