Desegregation activist Lee Lorch recently passed away. David Margolick, the author of Elizabeth and Hazel: Two Women of Little Rock, penned the New York Times obituary. You can read it here.
|Lee & Grace Lorch with their daughter.|
In 1957, Payne travelled to Little Rock to cover the famed Central High School desegregation standoff between Governor Orval Faubus and the Federal government. The following is a short account of Payne’s visit with Lee and Grace Lorch, both of whom were remarkable and unsung heroes of the era, drawn from my forthcoming book.
After a night’s rest in a private home, Payne received a dinner invitation from Lee Lorch, a white mathematics professor at the small black Philander Smith College in Little Rock. The two had met the previous year when Payne was traveling for her “South at Crossroads” series. In fact, she had written two articles about Lorch, tracing his repeated firing from colleges as an example of the treatment accorded to whites that joined the civil rights movement. “Lee Lorch and his family had been hounded through four states from the North to South like refugees in displaced camps,” Payne had told her readers. “And in the process of punishing Lee Lorch for his views, three proud institutions of learning have been made to grovel in the dust and bow the knee to bigotry.”
Payne was particularly interested in reconnecting with the Lorches because on the day Eckford had faced the troops and the mob, it had been Grace Lorch who had stepped forward to protect the young student as she sat alone on the bench at the bus stop. Enduring catcalls, Lorch had remained with Eckford until she safely boarded a bus. Payne was also hankering for some decent food. “The restaurant situation for Negroes in Little Rock is worse than bad,” she said.
Lee Lorch picked up Payne from the house where she was staying. As they drove through town, Lorch said it was the first time they had a guest over to their apartment overlooking the capitol building and he cautioned Payne that something untoward might be said.
At the building they entered the elevator operated by a young black woman. “I don’t believe I ever got your name,” Lorch said to the woman.
“Frankie,” she replied.
“Oh, but you do have another name, don’t you?”
“Sure, it’s Frankie Coleman.”
“Miss or Mrs.”
“Mrs.” replied Coleman, at which point Lorch introduced Payne calling the operator “Mrs. Coleman.”
“Frankie, looked slightly non-plussed at this departure from southern tradition,” said Payne, “but new gal of the South as she is, she didn’t quibble over the fact that I was riding in the front elevator.”
As soon as they reached the apartment the telephone rang. The manager was calling because he understood that the Lorches were “entertaining a colored guest and this was in violation of the rules and when would he be vacating?” Lorch replied he knew nothing of the rule and “he was accustomed to entertaining his friends, whatever their pigmentation happened to be.”
The following morning the Lorches received an eviction notice. “Right now,” Payne reported to her readers, “Little Rock to me is about the crummiest corner on the map. When I got home, Henry Cabot Lodge was on TV sounding off at Russia and giving the commies hell. Well, he should be in Little Rock now and see what’s going on.”