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.