The fall of the State Press

During the Little Rock Central High School integration crisis, the format of the State Press began to change. 

Headlines, which had been modest in earlier years, ran two lines across the top of the front page in one-inch type or larger. The layout was cleaner and less cluttered, and it was more horizontal in design. In January 1958, Bates moved to a tabloid size with 16 pages. To grab the reader’s attention and increase street sales, he increased the headline type so that it covered much of the front page.

Less than a month after the dramatic change, Bates raised the price of the paper to 15 cents a copy. This was apparently unpopular with his readers, because within the next few weeks, he responded with an editorial:

You Think the Price is High, Huh?

This paper stands for honesty, justice, and fairplay, and it “STANDS BEHIND WHAT IT STANDS FOR.” This stand is out of harmony with most white merchants who have wares to introduce to the Negro market, and because of that, the State Press is completely eliminated as an advertising medium for their wares with the sincere hope of “freezing” the paper out of business. Yet, you think the price is high. No Negro-published paper in the South, where prejudice predominates, can be of benefit to the Negro people and carry any substantial advertising from white merchants. It is common knowledge that my move to gain Negro recognition is met with disfavor from certain elements of whites. If this paper sacrificed principles, the publishers could well afford to give its readers the paper free …. This, the paper will not do and could not do. If you think the price is high, we wonder if it is as costly as the denial of your citizenship rights, that in many cases you would be denied were it not for your Negro published paper.”

This time proved to be a turning point for the State Press. After years of putting his blood, sweat, and tears into his paper, Bates was forced to watch it crumble before his very eyes.

The final blow

Following the crisis, many of the paper’s readers, both black and white, cancelled their subscriptions. Bates believed whites didn’t want their friends to know they received the controversial paper and blacks were afraid because their employers told them it was bad for them “because it kept things riled up.”

The loss of subscriptions hurt the State Press, but loss of major advertisers is what struck the final blow. The Southwestern Bell Telephone Company, Arkansas Louisiana Gas Company, and Arkansas Power and Light Company bowed out and the State Press was left with next to nothing.

Distributors cancelled their contracts and Bates felt it was due to political pressure because many of them called explaining that they’d received threats and were told not to bring the paper into their towns. Although Bates couldn’t prove the cause of the backpedaling, the Arkansas Gazette boldly expressed its opinion:

“Due to the successful boycott sponsored by the Arkansas segregationists against the State Press and the apathy of Arkansas Negroes over the stand the paper has taken in the integration controversy, the publishers find themselves faced with the choice of one of two things -‘give up the fight for constitutional rights or ‘give up the business.'”

Bates decided to let go of the paper and on October 29, 1959, released the final issue of the State Press.

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