The Mystery Death of “The Wrightsville 21”

On March 5, 1959, twenty-one African American boys burned to death inside a dormitory at an Arkansas reform school in Wrightsville

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Mystery Death of “The Wrightsville 21”. It’s the lost story of the ‘Arkansas Secret Holocaust’ in which 69 teenaged Negro Boys were pad locked inside the Wrightsville Negro Boys Industrial School Dormitory and the building mysteriously caught fire. 48 boys were able to force steel screens off one window and escape. 21 were burned alive in which 14 of the 21 boys were found stacked in a pile by a window. This is the worst fire ever on record in Arkansas History.

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The year is 1959 and Arkansas had been in the forefront of the desegregation era. The actions of then Governor Orval Faubus made national headlines with his blatant public refusal to obey the Brown vs. The Board of Education laws and his use of the military to refuse the “Little Rock Nine” entry into Little Rock Central High School for the 1957-58 era. But little is known of the events that followed. The following School Year 1958-59 was named “The Lost Year”. The year Gov. Faubus closed all High Schools to keep from segregating the schools and he along with his personal physician, Dr T.J. Raney opened the Private School Corporation to keep schools segregated. The board members directly benefited from the immediate sale of the land on which the Boys School once stood.

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Unresolved Tragedy

No cause for the fire has ever been determined, also no one was ever convicted of any wrongdoing even though it was determined to be negligence by the state. The boys were never properly identified or buried, there is no marker to mark the mass grave where these boys were supposedly buried. The families were never properly informed of the location of the remains nor properly compensated. To date, Arkansas still denies these families the right to exhume and DNA test the remains.

These Families Still Seek Closure!

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