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Highlights Archives

Three of the Little Rock Nine Visit the Archives


Ernest Green, the first black graduate of Little Rock's Central High School, looks through some of the papers in the Daisy Bates collection as Gloria Ray Karlmark talks about the papers with archivist Harry Miller in the background.

The Little Rock Nine became heroes of the civil rights movement in 1957 when they defied angry mobs and former Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus by becoming the first black students to enroll in Little Rock's Central High School. Three of the nine paid a visit to the Society's archives this month to look through the papers of their mentor, Daisy Bates. Bates shepherded the nine young students through the harrowing days when, by order of President Dwight Eisenhower, federal troops acted as their escorts in the face of continued segregationist hostility. Bates donated her papers to the Society in 1966. They include speeches, letters, clippings and photographs that document the Little Rock Nine's struggle for an equal-opportunity education — thus constituting one of the gems of the Society's comprehensive civil rights collections.

Bestowed with Marquette University's Highest Honor

Terrence Roberts peruses the papers of his Little Rock mentor Daisy Bates
Terrence Roberts peruses the papers of
his Little Rock mentor Daisy Bates

The occasion that brought the Little Rock Nine to Wisconsin was an honor bestowed on them by Marquette University in Milwaukee. On February 9 the university presented the nine with its highest honor, the Pere Marquette Award, for representing what Marquette President Robert A. Wild called a spirit of, "integration, inclusion and access to education in the face of terrible odds and deeply held prejudice." Marquette University archivist Matt Blessing knew about the Bates collection and its significance to the Little Rock Nine, so he invited Society archivist Harry Miller to bring selected items from the collection to Milwaukee for the group to see.

One of the items he brought that tends to be a real crowd pleaser at presentations about the Bates collection is the actual rock and an attached threatening note that members of the Ku Klux Klan hurled through Bates' living room window. The rock rested on a pedestal amid the photographs and assorted papers, but it drew little notice from the Little Rock Nine, one of whom remarked, "We all had rocks thrown through our windows" during the furor over forced integration of the Little Rock schools.

A Tumultuous Year in the Lives of the Little Rock Nine

The three members of the Little Rock Nine who visited the archives were Ernest Green (pictured in the top photo), who went on to become the first black graduate of the newly integrated Central High School in 1958, Terrence Roberts and Gloria Ray Karlmark. Despite the presence of armed troops to protect them, all nine students endured a year of verbal and physical harassment.

One of the nine, Minniejean Brown, moved to New York City before the school year ended. The other eight completed the school year but, like their counterparts across the district, had to attend other schools or take correspondence courses the next year when Governor Faubus, in defiance of a U.S. Supreme Court order, ordered all four of Little Rock's high schools closed to prevent further desegregation efforts pending the outcome of a public vote. In September 1958 citizens of Little Rock voted overwhelmingly to keep the schools closed. They did not reopen until August 1959 — as integrated schools.

:: Posted February 25, 2010

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