1957-1958 - Little Rock, Arkansas
(Desegregation of Central High School)
On September 9, 1957, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the first Civil Rights Act since 1875. The law markedly enlarged the Federal role in race relations. It established a Civil Rights Commission and a Civil Rights Division in the Department of Justice. Most important, it gave the Attorney General authority to seek injunctions against obstruction of voting rights.
That same month, in Little Rock, Ark., violent rioting erupted over the integration of Central High School. Nine Black students were successfully enrolled, but not before 1,000 paratroopers and 10,000 National Guardsmen were sent into the beleaguered city. The appearance of Federal troops in Little Rock brought back unpleasant memories of Reconstruction, and the price of progress was a polarization of southern attitudes.
Seventeen African American students were selected to attend the all white Central High School in 1957 but by opening day the number had dwindled to nine: Ernest Green, Thelma Mothershed, Elizabeth Eckford, Terrace Roberts, Carlotta Walls, Gloria Ray, Jefferson Thomas, Melba Pattillo, and Minnijean Brown. Bates would become the advisor for the nine students.
The day before school opened, Governor Orval Faubus called the National Guard to surround Central High, declaring "blood would run in the streets" if blacks students attempted to enter. Governor Orval Faubus of Arkansas had initially ordered his National Guard to surround Central High School to prevent black enrollments, claiming he did this to protect citizens and property from riots should they be allowed to enroll. Later, after meeting with President Eisenhower, Faubus withdrew the Guardsmen and, when black students enrolled, rioting broke out which Faubus failed to stop.
Executive Order (EO) 10730 of 23 September 1957 federalized Arkansas Guard units from 24 September 1957 to 29 May 1958. A total of 9,873 troops were called from Arkansas Army National Guard (ARNG) and Air National Guard (ANG) - 8,973 released from active duty 10 November 1957, the remaining 900 retained on Active Duty until 29 May 1958.
On September 24, Little Rock Mayor Woodrow Mann sent a special request for federal assistance to President Dwight Eisenhower. At the request of the mayor of Little Rock and an Arkansas congressman, President Eisenhower sent federal assistance in the form of U.S. Marshals, then placed the Arkansas National Guard under federal control and deployed 1,000 paratroopers from the 101st Airborne Division to assist in maintaining order. The following day nine African American students entered Central under the protection of members of the 101st Airborne Division of the U. S. Army.
The Little Rock Nine, as they have become known, finished the school year in 1958. One of the students, Ernest Green graduated that year with the help of federal protection. In September 1958, Governor Faubus closed all high schools in Little Rock. They reopened in August 1959 with the protection of local police. Only four of the nine students returned.
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