“After three full days at Central, I’ve found that the word integration is much more important than I thought.” — Melba Patillo, one of Little Rock Nine
Created in 1998, the Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site preserves and interprets the story of the 1957 Central High School Crisis. There, conflicted communities reacted in violent and ugly ways to the U.S. Supreme Court-mandated desegregation.
At the direction of the governor of Arkansas, an angry white mob, along with the National Guard, tried to prevent nine black students from enrolling in school. The President of the United States intervened with soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division, and journalists reporting through a new medium, television, brought the sights and sounds of the ensuing riots to homes across America.
Many viewed the three-week event as a constitutional crisis. The final consolidation confirmed the Supreme Court’s May 1954 decision of Brown v. Board of Education and the Fourteenth Amendment’s promise of equal protection of the law.
Based on National Park Service information and a timeline of events, here are nine things you may not know about this part of America’s civil rights history.
1. The integration crisis at Central High School was the first significant test for Brown vs. the Board of Education.
The United States Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board of Education found that individual educational institutions are inherently unequal. While the decision dismantled the legal framework for segregation in public schools, it did not specify how or when states would consolidate schools. A series of legal actions from 1954 to his 1957 set the stage for the crisis.
The Little Rock School Board adopted a six-year phased plan, but a subsequent Supreme Court decision in 1955 defined the implementation standard for consolidation as “at all deliberate speed.” The NAACP has petitioned the Little Rock School Board for immediate consolidation.
In January 1956, 27 black students attempted two semesters at Central High School, Little Rock Technical High School, Forest Heights Middle School, and Forest Park Elementary School. They were denied admission by the school district, resulting in a lawsuit by 12 black parents and his NAACP.
Two months later, Arkansas senators and representatives signed the “Southern Manifesto,” along with more than 90 other Southern lawmakers. It is a document that condemns the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision and encourages southern states to resist desegregation.
In August 1956, a U.S. District Court judge upheld a phased desegregation plan, stating that the school board was acting “with the utmost good faith.” Despite appeals, the Federal Court of Appeals also upheld the phased plan, calling for integration to begin at Central High School in September 1957, followed by other city schools for several years.
2. School officials scrutinized Little Rock Nine before enrolling him in Central High School.
In response to Little Rock’s consolidation plans, the city’s black-designated middle and high school principals have notified nine students to enroll at the white Central High School, known for academic excellence.
All nine had been confirmed by school officials to live in the Central school district and to be performing well. Her pupils from age 15 to 17 were Terrence Roberts, Elizabeth Eckford, Ernest Greene, Selma Mothershed, Mini Jean Brown, Jefferson Thomas, Carlotta Walls, Gloria Ray and Melva Pattillo.
Dubbed the “Little Rock Nine” by journalists, they covered a crisis that began when a white mob shouted racial slurs, threats and obscenities as students walked to school. bottom.
Despite being escorted by soldiers from September 25, 1957 through late October, black students endured physical and verbal abuse within the school buildings throughout the school year. Most of the nine eventually transferred to other high schools, and he was the only three to remain at Chuo High School until graduation. One obtained a diploma through a correspondence course at Central.
Each of them went on to have successful lives and careers, most with college and advanced degrees. All are alive except Thomas, who died in 2010.
As a reminder of their bravery, the memorial garden adjacent to the school has nine benches, nine trees, a concrete archway and a photographic history inlaid in brick.
3. Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus contributed to the integration crisis.
A Democrat elected in 1954, Forbath, initially on the liberal path, took a hard line on civil rights to defeat his staunchly segregated political opponents. bottom. He argued that the U.S. Supreme Court had trampled on Brown v. the Board of Education’s constitutional authority. In August 1957, he supported a petition by the Mother’s League (Mother’s League). The Mother’s League is a newly formed group that hopes to prevent consolidation in Central where some women have had children.
On September 2, one day before the start of the new school year, Faubus interrupted the “I Love Lucy Show” on local television to receive reports that a white supremacist “caravan” was heading to Little Rock. announced. at Central High School. Therefore, he sent the Arkansas National Guard to the school to prevent “blood on the streets.”
Two days later, Faubas revealed at an evening press conference that he had ordered the National Guard surrounding Central High School to stop black students from entering the school.
On September 7, Forbath received a telegram from President Dwight D. Eisenhower stating, “The Federal Constitution shall be upheld by all legal means under my command.” However, the next day, Faubas reaffirmed his position on the integration in a televised press conference, arguing that the federal government stop demanding integrated schools.
4. President Dwight D. Eisenhower became the first president since Reconstruction to use federal forces to enforce his civil rights.
Eisenhower federalized the Arkansas National Guard on September 24, 1957 and sent 1,200 soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division to Little Rock to escort the students. school.
It was the first time such a move had been made since the post-Civil War era.
In a televised address from the White House, the president said, “We will not allow mob rule to override our court decisions.” The 101st Airborne Division remained at Little Rock until November.
5. The crisis in Little Rock came to light through the new medium of TV news.
Television news was still in its infancy when desegregation was underway, so the Little Rock crisis was one of the first news stories filmed when the events took place.
Little Rock Nine has become a player in visual public drama. Camera crews, print journalists, and radio correspondents from all over the country came to the high school’s doorstep.
school integrated news coverage
© Thomas J. O’Halloran/Library of Congress
The Magnolia Mobil gas station across from the school became their default headquarters.
Eisenhower was motivated to intervene in federal forces by the iconic images of Elizabeth Eckford’s mob on her way to school and the beatings of white and black journalists. The press became a model for how the civil rights movement would use the news media over the next decade.
6. Student reactions to integration at Central High School were mixed.
Despite the angry crowd, some whites welcomed the black students. “If our parents go home and leave us alone, we’ll be fine…we can do that,” a white schoolgirl told news media.
Soldiers escorting Little Rock Nine inside the school documented how black students endured constant insults, kicks and trips from their peers. A white student who spoke with a black student was threatened. Bomb threats and fire drills have become routine.
Jefferson Thomas told the news media, “The harder they tried to keep me out, the more determined I was to graduate and get my diploma.
Tensions erupted at times. From December to February, several white students were suspended for violence against Little Rock Nine, and black student Mini Jean Brown was suspended, then suspended for the rest of the school year for retaliation against her perpetrators. was expelled from school.
7. Little Rock High School was closed for the 1958-59 school year due to the 1957 turmoil.
The academic year 1958-59 became known as the lost year. Rather than find a way to peacefully integrate public high schools after the chaotic beginnings of consolidation, the Little Rock community and he is due to Governor Orval Faubus choosing to close them down.
Despite a September 1958 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that the Little Rock desegregation program must continue, Faubas was, as of 8:00 a.m. on September 15, a popular vote on integration. We have ordered four Little Rock High Schools to close pending results. On September 27, residents voted against consolidation in his 19,470 to 7,561 vote, leaving the high school closed.
The decision removed 3,665 students from public education. A federal court declared the closure unconstitutional, and the school reopened in August 1959. However, in the years that followed, the level of integration increased and the Arkansas private school movement began.
8. Women played a key role on both sides of the integration crisis.
The segregated Mother’s League, formed in August 1957, filed a lawsuit to prevent integration at Central High School. Among their activities, they held sunrise services at schools in September, sang “Dixie” and waved Confederate flags.
Supporters of Little Rock Nine included Daisy L. Gatson-Bates, president of the NAACP state chapter. She led her NAACP protest against the school board’s gradual consolidation plan, instead calling for immediate desegregation.
During the crisis, Bates organized the logistics for the arrival and departure of Little Rock Nine’s school each day, using her home as a meeting point. A street north of the high school is now named after her.
The Church Women’s Council protested the governor’s use of the National Guard. The Women’s Emergency Committee to Open Our Schools was formed a year later to publicly condemn the governor’s decision to close Little Rock High School for the 1958-59 school year. The group also supported the reinstatement of 44 teachers and administrators who had been dismissed for allegedly supporting consolidation.
9. Little Rock Central High School is the only operating high school designated a National Historic Site.
Little Rock Central High School continues to educate local youth. More than 2,400 students are enrolled.
Built in 1927, the impressive building combines Art Deco and Gothic Revival architectural styles. Notable elements include four Greco-Roman cast stone statues of him above the school’s main entrance, representing ideals of ambition, individuality, opportunity and preparedness.
The American Institute of Architects called the building “America’s Most Beautiful High School.”
During the era of desegregation, schools served as centers of civic life and local pride. This is one of the reasons why some people fought hard against change.
want to visit?
The 28-acre Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site is located two miles south of downtown Little Rock, the capital of Arkansas. Its visitor center is adjacent to Little Rock Central High School, Memorial Gardens, and the Magnolia Mobil gas station.
The high school continues to operate and is closed to visitors unless on an organized group tour.
A short distance away is Daisy Bates’ house and a replica of the bus bench where student Elizabeth Eckford sat surrounded by an angry mob.
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