Wisconsin Historical Society

Historical Essay

Commemorating 50 Years of Integration - Image Gallery Essay

Images relating to Daisy Bates, former Arkansas NAACP President

Commemorating 50 Years of Integration | Wisconsin Historical Society
Daisy Bates peering through the broken window repaired with tape.

Daisy Bates at Broken Window, 1958

Daisy Bates, an American civil rights activist, publisher and writer who played a leading role in the Little Rock integration crisis of 1957, looking through a broken window repaired with tape. View the original source document: WHI 32538

September 25, 2007, marked the 50th anniversary of a pivotal event in the history of civil rights in America, the desegregation of Little Rock Central High School in 1957. Although segregated schools were prohibited under the 1954 Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, many communities were slow and often violently unwilling to comply. The events leading up to the opening of Central High to African Americans are well-documented in the Society's archival collections. The most important of these collections are the papers of Arkansas NAACP President Daisy Bates, who led the effort to integrate the Little Rock schools. In honor of this anniversary, Bates and the "Little Rock Nine" are the subject of this gallery.

Civil Rights History in Little Rock

EnlargeJefferson Thomas of the Little Rock Nine is harassed by Central High School students as he waits for transportation after the first day of school.

Jefferson Thomas of the Little Rock Nine, 1959-08-17

Jefferson Thomas of the Little Rock Nine is harassed by Central High School students as he waits for transportation after the first day of school. View the original source document: WHI 52647

By 1957 Little Rock, Arkansas, had desegregated its buses, zoo, library and parks, and the school board had endorsed a plan to integrate the public schools, starting with the high school. The night before school was to start on September 3, however, Governor Orval Faubus claimed that caravans of anti-integration protesters were headed toward Little Rock. Fearing violence, he called out the Arkansas National Guard to prevent the nine black students from registering. A tense standoff between the Guard and protesters on one side and the students and NAACP leaders on the other ensued, and lasted until September 20 when the Guard troops were withdrawn at the insistence of federal authorities.

When school finally opened on September 23, 1,000 Little Rock police tried to hold back protesters while nine black students briefly entered the school. When the mob surged toward the school the police were unable to contain them and the students were quickly pushed out a side door to safety. The next day President Eisenhower sent in federal troops and on September 25, the nine students began classes under the protection of the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division. Eisenhower also federalized the 10,000 soldiers of the Arkansas National Guard to protect the black students.

Daisy Bates, Activist and Supporter

EnlargeDaisy Bates outside her home with four of the Little Rock Nine. The students are Elizabeth Eckford, Minnijean Brown, Melba Pattillo, and Thelma Mothershed.

Daisy Bates and Four of the Little Rock Nine

Daisy Bates outside her home with four of the Little Rock Nine. The students are Elizabeth Eckford, Minnijean Brown, Melba Pattillo, and Thelma Mothershed. View the original source document: WHI 31457

As a friend and head of the Arkansas NAACP, Daisy Bates provided support and encouragement to the nine students. She was in daily communication with their parents, school officials and with the local and national NAACP offices. She and her husband also suffered physical and emotional abuse from whites for their civil rights advocacy. The Society collection also includes the rock that was thrown through Bates' window with a note from the Ku Klux Klan threatening that next time, it wouldn't be a rock but dynamite. Many documents from the Daisy Bates papers were digitized for the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer, and included in the Freedom Summer Digital Collection at the Wisconsin Historical Society.

Note: The Daisy Bates papers and other records are available to the public during regular Archives hours. The audio recordings require advanced notice. See information on Visiting the Library and Archives. View the finding aid to the Daisy Bates papers, 1946-1966. Other archival materials on the desegregation of Central High School include manuscripts by journalists Relman Morin and Philip Benjamin as well as contemporary film in the collection of Glenn Silber.

View the Gallery