Little Rock Nine

Little Rock Nine

The Little Rock Nine was a group of African-American students who were enrolled in Little Rock Central High School in 1957. The ensuing Little Rock Crisis, in which the students were initially prevented from entering the racially segregated school by Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus, and then attended after the intervention of President Eisenhower, is considered to be one of the most important events in the African-American Civil Rights Movement. [ [ The Little Rock Nine] ~ Civil Rights Movement Veterans]


"Brown v. Board of Education"

The U.S. Supreme Court issued its historic "Brown v. Board of Education", 347 U.S. 483, on May 17, 1954. The decision declared all laws establishing segregated schools to be unconstitutional, and it called for the desegregation of all schools throughout the nation. Warren, Earl, Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court. Cornell Law School. [ Brown v. Topeka Board of Education.] ] After the decision the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) attempted to register black students in previously all-white schools in cities throughout the South. In Little Rock, the capital city of Arkansas, the Little Rock School Board agreed to comply with the high court's ruling. Virgil Blossom, the Superintendent of Schools, submitted a plan of gradual integration to the school board on May 24, 1955, which the board unanimously approved. The plan would be implemented during the 1958 school year, which would begin in September 1957. By 1957, the NAACP had registered nine black students to attend the previously all-white Little Rock Central High, selected on the criteria of excellent grades and attendance. Craig Rains. [ Little Rock Central High 40th Anniversity.] ]

The entrance blocked

Several segregationist "citizens' councils" threatened to hold protests at Central High and physically block the black students from entering the school. Governor Orval Faubus deployed the Arkansas National Guard to support the segregationists on September 4, 1957. The sight of a line of soldiers blocking nine black students from attending high school made national headlines and polarized the city. On September 9, "The Council of Church Women" issued a statement condemning the governor's deployment of soldiers to the high school and called for a citywide prayer service on September 12. Even President Dwight Eisenhower attempted to de-escalate the situation and summoned Governor Faubus to meet him. The President warned the governor not to interfere with the Supreme Court's ruling. [,9171,893684,00.html "Retreat from Newport,"] "Time". Monday, September 23, 1957. ]

Federal intervention

Attorneys from the U.S. Justice Department requested an injunction against the governor's deployment of the National Guard from the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas in Little Rock. Judge Ronald Davies granted the injunction and ordered the governor to withdraw the National Guard on September 20. [,9171,891331,00.html "Case No. 3113,"] "Time". Monday, September 30, 1957.]

The governor backed down and withdrew the National Guard, and the Little Rock Police Department took their place. Hundreds of protesters, mostly parents of the white students attending Central High, remained entrenched in front of the school. On Monday, September 23, the police quietly slipped the nine students into the school. When the protesters learned that the nine black students were inside, they began confronting the outnumbered line of policemen. When white residents began to riot ["Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience" Page 573] , the nine students were escorted out of the school. Front pages of the "Arkansas Democrat" and "Arkansas Gazette". [ Little Rock 1957.] ]

Armed escort

The next day, Woodrow Mann, the Mayor of Little Rock, asked President Eisenhower to send federal troops to enforce integration and protect the nine students.On September 24, the President ordered the 101st Airborne Division of the United States Army to Little Rock and federalized the entire 10,000 member Arkansas National Guard, taking it out of the hands of Governor Faubus. The 101st took positions immediately, and the nine students successfully entered the school on the next day, Wednesday, September 25, 1957.

An ad hoc unit, Task Force 153rd Infantry, was hastily organized at Camp Robinson from guardsmen drawn from units statewide. The bulk of the Arkansas Guard was quickly discharged from federalized status, but Task Force 153rd Infantry remained, taking over the entire operation when the paratroopers left at Thanksgiving, and remaining on duty until the end of the school year.

A tense year

By the end of September 1957, the nine were admitted to Little Rock Central High under the protection of the U.S. Army (and later the Arkansas National Guard), but they were still subjected to a year of physical and verbal abuse (spitting on them, calling them names) by many of the white students. Melba Pattillo had acid thrown into her eyes. [cite web |url= |title=Melba Pattillo Beals |accessdate=2008-02-02 |work=Teachers' Domain |publisher=WGBH Educational Foundation ] Another one of the students, Minnijean Brown, was verbally confronted by a group of white, male students in December 1957 in the school cafeteria during lunch. She dumped her lunch, a bowl of chili, on the students, and was expelled as a result; she later transferred to New Lincoln High School in New York City.


The citizens' council continued to protest and pressured the Little Rock School Board into reversing its decision to desegregate the public schools. In August 1958, with support from Governor Faubus and the Arkansas State Legislature, the school board canceled the entire 1958-59 school year for its three high schools rather than integrate them. Thousands of high school students left the city to attend high schools in other school districts, or enrolled in all-white private schools. One year later, additional federal court rulings and the Little Rock Chamber of Commerce pressured the school board into reopening the school system. By the fall of 1959, Little Rock public schools had reopened as an integrated school system. ]


The "Little Rock Nine" were:
* Ernest Green (b. 1941), a senior, became the first African-American to graduate from Central High.
* Elizabeth Eckford (b. 1941)
* Jefferson Thomas (b. 1942)
* Terrence Roberts (b. 1941)
* Carlotta Walls LaNier (b. 1942)
* Minnijean Brown (b. 1941)
* Gloria Ray Karlmark (b. 1942)
* Thelma Mothershed (b. 1940)
* Melba Pattillo (b. 1941)


Governor Faubus

Governor Faubus's opposition to desegregation may have been politically and racially motivated. [Bentley 2007] Faubus had indicated that he would consider bringing Arkansas into compliance with the high court's decision in 1956. However, desegregation was opposed by his own southern conservative Democratic Party, which dominated all Southern politics at the time. Faubus, a conservative, risked losing political support in the upcoming 1958 gubernatorial primary if he showed support for integration.

Most histories of the crisis conclude that Faubus, facing pressure as he campaigned for a third term, decided to appease racist elements in the state by calling out the National Guard to prevent the black students from entering Central High.

Harry Ashmore, the editor of the "Arkansas Gazette", won a 1958 Pulitzer Prize for his editorials on the crisis. Ashmore portrayed the fight over Central High as a crisis manufactured by Faubus; in his interpretation, Faubus used the Arkansas National Guard to keep black children out of Central High School because he was frustrated by the success his political opponents were having in using segregationist rhetoric to stir white voters.

Congressman Brooks Hays, who tried to mediate between the federal government and Faubus, was later defeated by a last minute write-in candidate, Dale Alford, a member of the Little Rock School Board who had the backing of Faubus's allies. A few years later, despite the incident with the "Little Rock Nine", Faubus ran as a moderate segregationist against Dale Alford, who was challenging Faubus for the Democratic nomination for governor in 1962.

Eisenhower's deployment of federal troops was characterized by some white southerners as a "second invasion", in reference to the Civil War and Reconstruction. This accusation was repeated in other federal interventions, such as the U.S. Marshals who escorted James Meredith to University of Mississippi in 1962. As such, segregationists were just as hostile and confrontational with the "invaders" as they were to the black students.


During their ordeal, the Little Rock Nine were advised by Little Rock journalist and activist Daisy Bates. Bates and the Little Rock Nine received the Spingarn Medal in 1958. The Little Rock Nine were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal on November 9, 1999.

Little Rock Central High School still functions as part of the Little Rock School District, and is now a National Historic Site that houses a Civil Rights Museum, administered in partnership with the National Park Service, to commemorate the events of 1957. [United States National Park Service, [ Little Rock Central High School, National Historic Site.] ]

In 1981, the TV movie "Crisis at Central High" dramatized the events of the crisis.

In 1996, seven of the Little Rock Nine appeared on the "Oprah Winfrey Show". They came face to face with a few of the white students who had tormented them as well as one student who had befriended them.

In 2007, the United States Mint made available a commemorative silver dollar to "recognize and pay tribute to the strength, the determination and the courage displayed by African-American high school students in the fall of 1957." The obverse depicts students accompanied by a soldier, with nine stars symbolizing the Little Rock Nine. The reverse depicts an image of Little Rock Central High School, circa 1957. Proceeds from the coin sales are to be used to improve the National Historic Site. [cite web |url= |title=Little Rock Central High School Desegregation Silver Dollar Program |publisher=United States Mint |accessdate=2007-05-19 ]

ee also

* "Cooper v. Aaron"
* "Crisis at Central High"
* The McDonogh Three
* James Meredith
* James Hood & Vivian Malone Jones
* Lee Lorch
* "Nine from Little Rock"



* [] "Through a Lens, Darkly," by David Margolick. "Vanity Fair", Sept. 24, 2007.
* [ The Tiger, Student Paper of Little Rock Central High.]
* "Civil Rights", "Kids Discover", Volume 16, Issue 1, ISSN 1054-2868, January 2006.
* Beals, Melba Pattillo. "Warriors Don't Cry: A Searing Memoir of the Battle to Integrate Little Rock's Central High". (ISBN 0-671-86638-9)
* Branton, Wiley A. "Little Rock Revisited: Desegregation to Resegregation." "Journal of Negro Education" 1983 52(3): 250-269. Issn: 0022-2984 [ Fulltext in Jstor]
* Faubus, Orval Eugene. "Down from the Hills." Little Rock: Democrat Printing & Lithographing, 1980. 510 pp. autobiography.
* Elizabeth Jacoway. "Turn Away Thy Son: Little Rock, the Crisis That Shocked the Nation" (2007).
* Kirk, John A., ed., "An Epitaph for Little Rock: A Fiftieth Anniversary Retrospective on the Central High Crisis" (University of Arkansas Press, 2008).
* Kirk, John A., "Beyond Little Rock: The Origins and Legacies of the Central High Crisis" (University of Arkansas Press, 2007).
* Kirk, John A., "Redefining the Color Line: Black Activism in Little Rock, Arkansas, 1940-1970" (University of Florida Press, 2002).
* Reed, Roy. "Faubus: The Life and Times of an American Prodigal" (1997).

External links

* [ Video on Little Rock Nine on African American History Channel]
* [,9171,1663841,00.html The Legacy of Little Rock] on (a division of Time Magazine)
* [ Guardians of Freedom - 50th Anniversary of Operation Arkansas, by ARMY.MIL]
* [ Documents regarding the Little Rock Crisis, Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library]
* [ Facing History and Ourselves.]
* National Park Service. [ Little Rock Central High School, National Historic Site.]
* Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture entry: [ Little Rock Nine]
* [ "”From Canterbury to Little Rock: The Struggle for Educational Equality for African Americans”", a National Park Service Teaching with Historic Places (TwHP) lesson plan]

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