Black Main Street
American HistoryBlack HistoryNever ForgetVideos

Never Forget: 69 Black Boys Were Padlocked Into A Dormitory Where A Mysterious Fired Started – 21 Burned To Death

For the last 5 decades, every year has been 1959 for Frank Lawrence. For the majority of his life, Lawrence has been trying to solve one of Arkansas’ greatest mysteries.

“No one ever knew it existed because the ability of the state of Arkansas to do such a fantastic job to cover it up,” said Lawrence.

March 5th, 1959, 69 African American boys, ages 13 to 17, including Lawrence’s 15-year-old brother Lindsey Cross, were padlocked into their dormitory for the night at the Negro Boys Industrial School in Wrightsville.

Around 4 a.m., a fire mysteriously ignited, forcing the boys to fight and claw their way out of the burning building.

It’s an event in history possibly forgotten or unknown by many, but it’s that moment that claimed the life of 21 boys.

“It was a carefully calculated murder that involved 21 boys but was designed to kill 69 that were housed inside of this dormitory,” said Lawrence.

Lawrence has made it his life’s mission to uncover the truth surrounding what he calls Arkansas’ “secret holocaust,” which coincides with the focal point of author Griffin Stockley’s latest work.

When the smoke cleared that March morning in 1959, the boys’ who burned to death were found piled on top of one another in the corner of the dormitory. The 48 who had survived managed to escape by prying off mesh metal screens from two windows.

“Most of the boys that were killed had run back to a corner of the building. If you look at the diagram, you can see that although there were a couple of doors, in fact we know there was no one there to unlock the doors,” said Stockley.

The horrific event briefly made headlines that also brought attention to the squalor and deplorable conditions in which the boys lived.

“The conditions were to a point where when 69 boys all go to bed at night, in a space barely big enough for them to move around and they are one foot apart from one another and you had to get up at night and go to the bathroom, they had to defecate in buckets,” said Lawrence.

“The boys went around in rags. They had one 30-gallon water tank for them to take baths,” said Stockley.

The boys in the school were committed for being orphaned, homeless or for committing offenses described as mischief and alleged petty crimes. The school and the treatment of the children became a fiery representation of segregation within the South during the Jim Crow Era.

“A whole part of this is our history with white supremacy and the way African Americans have been discriminated against historically in Arkansas. It was never separate but equal, it was always unequal,” said Stockley.

Now, almost 60 years after the horrific fire, both Lawrence and Stockley are writing books, hoping to spark a fresh look at the fire and its initial cause.

“The fact that it was in such deteriorated condition, that’s probably why the fire started, because of the wiring,” said Stockley.

So was it gross negligence that lead to the death of the boys or were they burned alive intentionally?

Lawrence believes the latter.

“Everyone wants to conclude that it was an accident to prevent putting more embarrassment on the state of Arkansas or Orval Faubus,” said Lawrence.

Two years before the fire, Little Rock gained national attention in 1957 during the Desegregation Crisis. Then governor, Orval Faubus, called the Arkansas National Guard to keep nine black students from entering Little Rock’s all-white Central High School. Faubus’ decision was overturned by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. In retaliation, Faubus shut down Little Rock high schools for the 1958–1959 school year, often referred to as the “Lost Year.”

Lawrence believes the events leading up to the “Lost Year,” added fuel to the Wrightsville school’s flames.

“This holocaust and this murder is a seminal event that has been designed to trigger an action by the African American community to say ‘oh no’ we are not going to try to integrate schools anymore, we are going to try to be separate but equal but we are going to stop this desegregation activity,” said Lawrence.

Prior to the fire, Governor Faubus toured the Wrightsville school and saw firsthand the conditions in which the boys lived but made no recommendations for change. However, newspaper articles reported Faubus appeared disturbed by the death of the 21 boys, calling the fire, ‘inexcusable’.

Faubus immediately called for a hearing to determine who may have been responsible for deaths of the children.

“The science of preserving a crime scene was in existence in 1959. Yet the very morning these boys were killed, they were dismantling this whole scene with hoses, rakes and shovels. They were tearing it apart like they were trying to cover up something,” said Lawrence.

The school’s staff and Superintendent L.R. Gains all gave their accounts of what happened that night of the fire, noting that the boys had been locked in and left unsupervised for the night. Conversely, The Pulaski County Grand Jury found that numerous individuals and agencies were responsible, but ultimately, they returned no criminal charges.

“Unfortunately, it’s just like blaming everybody and nobody,” said Stockley.

In the meantime, in an ironic twist, the land in which the school stood is now the Arkansas Department of Correction Facility Wrightsville Unit where you won’t find a plaque to indicate the boys ever lived or died there.

The same omission exists at their supposed mass grave which can be found at the Haven of Rest Cemetery in Little Rock.

“The bodies was brought out here and a mass grave was dug with 1-14 and the bodies were interned there,” said Haven of Rest owner, Stephanie Webb.

According to cemetery records, hours after the fire, what little remained of the boys who died was taken to a local funeral home and their body parts reportedly wrapped in newspaper.

“Most of the bodies were brought to Dubuisson Funeral Home, which of course now no longer exist and as far as how they were received, there’s a lot of questionable stuff,” said Webb.

“The parents of the boys could just come in and pick out body parts al la carte and claim they were their children,” said Lawrence.

Seven of the 21 boys were buried privately by their families. The other 14 are supposedly buried in a mass grave, their brief funeral and burial paid for by the state of Arkansas.

“After the ceremony was over, the family members were ushered away from the cemetery and not allowed to view the interment into the burial plot, so they never saw coffins go into the ground,” said Lawrence.

According to Webb, the cemetery’s records indicate a bronze grave marker was purchased for the 14 boys a few months after their death, again by the state. However, she says she has never seen it, nor does she know where it is.

So what is the truth surrounding the death and burial of the Wrightsville boys? Lawrence and Stockley both hope their upcoming books expose the perception that Arkansas apparently put little value on those young boys’ lives.

“You can’t exclude history just because it’s distasteful to a certain community,” said Lawrence.

“We have to feel some pain at some point about these things as oppose to dismissing them as kind of an academic exercise or part of our pathetic history of race relations in Arkansas, in the South,” said Stockley.

The Claims Commission ruled in September of 1959 to award the estates of each of the 21 boys $2,500, but Lawrence says his family only received $1,400 dollars. In the meantime, he hopes one day to gain the right to exhume his brothers remains and bury them in his family’s burial plot in Hensley, Arkansas.

Lawrences book, “Locked in And Burned: America’s Secret Holocaust,” which is set to come out later this year, hopes to further explore the circumstances surrounding the fire. Additionally, he dives into why he believes Governor Faubus and Little Rock businessman Dr. T.J. Raney directly benefited from the immediate sale of the land on which the boys’ school once stood.

“If you look at my research and uncover the circumstances that surrounded the players involved starting with Governor Faubus and T.J. Raney and other segregationist, it would be easy to conclude it wasn’t one of the 5 excuses that they elevated, like possible lightning, possible arson, possible woodstove, possible faulty wiring. Raney and others conspired to kill those kids so they could take ownership of all of that acreage so that they could flip it and build the all-white boys school in Boyle Park,” said Lawrence.

Stockley’s book, “Black Boys Burning,” plans to further explore how the deplorable conditions of the school possibly lead to the deadly fire. His book is set to be released in the fall of 2017.

Related posts


Wanda March 6, 2019 at 6:14 pm

When will Frank Lawrence’s book, “Locked In and Burned: America’s Secret Holocaust” be released???

Coffeewench July 4, 2019 at 1:42 pm

There’s a link to it in the story…

Linda Quinlan October 20, 2019 at 1:47 pm

It’s for sale on or you might be able to find a copy at the library.

Pam Thornabar June 27, 2019 at 9:17 pm

Somebody knows what really happened. We all know they were murdered but the cowards who did it left that with their heirs as though it’s some great legacy., and they keeping it a secret cause they don’t want the world to nknow their upstanding granddaddy was a murdering pos! When granddaddy probably laughed and bragged about killing innocent young men just because they were black! Everyone of them who know the story and for generations of their family to come. I hope the screams and horrors those boys suffered torture their rotten asses every night until they tell the truth!

ChinaDoll July 7, 2019 at 8:34 pm

Please make a movie of this story!!! IT NEEDS TO BE DONE NOW!!

Julia House July 8, 2019 at 7:02 pm

Could I proofread articles for you?

Maggie August 27, 2019 at 11:09 pm

I’m so glad that was your take away from this article. You are very insightful.

Lucreita July 24, 2019 at 5:30 pm

So sad, it touch my heart! Even though this
happen before my time it still hurts! We are still hated, we are still being killed! I really want to know why we are hated every where! No matter where we go we are hated people! it’s sad, and I’m so tired of the hate for Brown skin people! I fear for my own children! I hope they make a movie and keep fighting for this story so the world can know the Truth and many other stories they buried from us!

Rose Kay Davis November 8, 2019 at 1:23 pm

There are some good white people out there who are saddened and horrified by the needless murder of innocent people. We are fighting the evil white racists who consider us the worst of the worst for being “race traitors.” I will never understand why people hate because of skin color or religion. I will never stop fighting for equality. Those racists are cowards who think that elevating people of color somehow takes something away from them. I know that elevating people of color elevates us all. Poor ignorant whites who think rich white people have their best interests at heart are fools. The rich only protect themselves and use the ignorant poor to do their dirty work. We need to do better as white people to call out racism when we see it and hold white people accountable for their actions. It shouldn’t be the oppressed who are left doing the heavy lifting. Its the job of the privileged to fight for the oppressed.

DJ November 16, 2019 at 4:53 pm

That hatred diminishes quite a bit once you are outside the US!!

Rhonda August 27, 2019 at 7:50 pm

Because of our strength, intellect and ability to love when those who hate us. Because the enemy of all humans knows we are, the chosen of Elohim, he tries to exterminate us. Sadly, those who hate us for being blessed with such beautifully melinated skin don’t realize that without us there’d be no them. Fear not, live in peace when possible, teach your children well they are, how to best protect themselves and shine. Being melinated is a gift many will never understand.

Fred September 3, 2019 at 8:09 am

Family, buy the book and have your children read it. No One will teach Our children the TRUTH but US, that’s OUR responsibility.

Brad Lee September 3, 2019 at 7:09 pm

When We Spoke On This Tragedy Back In 2012-13, No One Bothered To Inquire Yet We Continue To Speak!

We Spoke On This Tragedy And
We Shall Continue To Speak Until EARTH AND HEAVEN Rings With The Sounds Of Our Liberated VICTORY!


Jo-Ann Gorka October 20, 2019 at 4:01 pm

I was born August 1959. I have never heard of this tragic event in history until now, at 60 years old. How horrific.

Bob October 26, 2019 at 12:45 pm

Thank you for writing about this horrendous loss of life and consequent lack of investigation.

Emanuel Phillips November 12, 2019 at 10:28 am

There are so many stories from the past in all parts of the south. Horrible inhumane. Now just a few of the stories are coming out. So many remain untold. Thanks for the reminder .

Joe Hepperle June 20, 2020 at 6:46 pm

I can’t find, in the story, where either of these two investigative authors have found any new or ‘previously hidden’ evidence. It seems as if they both are only re-interpreting the existing evidence — years after the fact — with their slant put on it. I’m sure I’m wrong though. I’ll keep re-reading the article and re-viewing the video to find where I missed the new evidence they have discovered. As far as the bronze memorial that is listed in the records, but is nowhere to be found now, it is probably still in someone’s garage, waiting for someone to step up and pay for it to be actually mounted on a display pedestal (that actually happened to a grave marker for an ancestor of mine (stored in the cemetery officials garage because nobody had stepped up to PAY for its installation (– stored for 62 years!). Also, it is too bad that they have shut down all the bronze gravesite memorial foundries in the United states. If any were still operating, folks could cough-up the roughly $2000 it would cost to have a replacement plaque made, and another couple of hundred to have it mounted. ~Sigh~ But, since the original was sold for scrap metal value


errrr… oooops… I mean went missing, there can never be a bronze marker ever made and placed in the cemetery because they don’t make cemetery grave markers anymore. Heck, they probably don’t even make the marble and granite ones anymore either!

Joe Hepperle July 3, 2020 at 1:19 pm

I’m happy to report that, on further investigation, I discovered that a new bronze plaque was made and is already installed at the grave site. I’m sad to report that I could not find this information on Black Main Street. I rely on Black Main Street for accurate and unbiased stories and information. I was shocked to find that this article here is lacking any update whatsoever. Can one of the Editors please add an update to this story so that no one else is fooled into thinking that important things are left undone? Thank you.


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.