Daisy Bates at Broken Window, Little Rock, Arkansas, May 29, 1958. WHi 32538
Commemorating 50 Years of Integration
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 month's featured gallery.
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side and the students and NAACP leaders on the other ensued, and lasted until September 20 when the Guard troops were withdrawn at the insistence of federal authorities.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.
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.
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
Suggestions for Further Reading
Daisy Bates Papers, 1946-1966
Philip R. Benjamin Papers, 1934-1965