Integration of Central High School

Integration of Central High School

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Brown v. Board of Education

Three years prior to the Little Rock Nine entering Central High School, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously in Brown v. Board of Education that segregated educational facilities were inherently unconstitutional.

Five days after the verdict, the Little Rock School Board issued a statement saying they would comply with the decision once the Supreme Court defined the method and time frame in which desegregation should take place, a promise they didn’t intend to keep.

Lost Year

“The Lost Year” refers to the 1958–59 school year in Little Rock (Pulaski County), when all the city’s high schools were closed in an effort to block desegregation. One year after Governor Faubus used state troops to thwart federal court mandates for desegregation by the Little Rock Nine at Central High School, in September 1958, he invoked newly passed state laws to forestall further desegregation and closed Little Rock’s four high schools: Central High, Hall High, Little Rock Technical High (a white school), and Horace Mann (a black school). A total of 3,665 students, both black and white, were denied a free public education for an entire year which, increased racial tensions and further divided the community into opposing camps.

The Lost Year was the aftermath of the desegregation of Little Rock Central High School in 1957–58, the main event in a series that marked the well-known civil rights battle fought between the federal and state governments over the Arkansas implementation of the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas decision. In that case, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously decided that racial segregation in public schools violated the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, overturning the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson decision which had originally brought legal segregation to American society and to educational facilities.

There was broad opposition to the Brown decision across the South. Southern state legislatures passed resolutions defying the desegregation decision, while white groups formed to defend segregation and fight those who attempted its implementation. In 1957, Governor Orval Faubus called out the Arkansas National Guard to prevent nine black students from entering Central High. President Dwight Eisenhower responded by sending federal troops (the 101 st Airborne Infantry) and federalizing the National Guard to give the students protected entrance to the school. Desegregation seemed to be in place, the school year was completed, and a senior class graduated. However, Arkansas segregationists had other plans.

Three important events came together in the summer of 1958 that set up the Lost Year. First, the Little Rock School Board requested from the federal court system a delay in further implementing desegregation at Central High. Federal District Judge Harry Lemley granted a delay until January 1961. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) immediately petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court for an emergency order to overturn the delay granted by Lemley. These two court cases threw Little Rock’s desegregation back to the courts. Second, Faubus sought the Democratic nomination as governor for a third term. Faubus carried all seventy-five counties in the summer primary and felt assured of voter approval in the fall election. The third event was Faubus’ call for an extraordinary session of the Arkansas General Assembly on August 26, 1958, which passed a series of laws to forestall desegregation. Among the sixteen bills was Act 4, which allowed the closure of any school threatened with racial integration. Another bill, Act 5, allowed state monies to follow any displaced student to the school of his choice, whether privately or publicly funded.

When the U.S. Supreme Court met in special session in September 1958 (regarding the Aaron v. Cooper petitions), they ordered the immediate integration of Little Rock Central High on September 12 and said that Little Rock must continue with its desegregation plan. The same day, Faubus signed into law all the bills passed by the Arkansas General Assembly. He closed all four high schools in Little Rock beginning on Monday, September 15, interrupting the education of nearly 4,000 students and disrupting as many households and families. Faubus’s action not only locked students from their classrooms but locked 177 teachers and administrators in the schools, where they had to fulfill their contractual obligations and appear for work, despite the empty classes. Most were soon used as substitutes in junior high and elementary schools.

The newly passed law, Act 4, required voter approval. Faubus invoked the new law only for Little Rock high schools because those were the ones threatened with desegregation at that moment, so the vote was only in Little Rock. On September 27, ballots for reopening closed schools read: “For racial integration of all schools within the Little Rock School District,” and by a three-to-one margin, voters kept schools closed. The wording of the ballot and the timing of the election on a Saturday morning were orchestrated by Faubus and the segregationists to get exactly the vote they wanted—acceptance of closed schools rather than even token desegregation.

The Lost Year was one of the most peculiar situations in Arkansas history. High school teachers worked in empty classrooms. A private school corporation formed to lease public school buildings and hire public school teachers, but federal courts prevented this. The school district experimented for a few weeks with television teaching by fifteen white teachers on the three commercial television stations. Soon, private schools, aside from the three Catholic parochial schools that already existed, opened to accommodate displaced white students these included the T. J. Raney School, Baptist High School (which was affiliated with Ouachita Baptist College, now Ouachita Baptist University), and Second Baptist Church. No private schools for black students emerged.

The Lost Year continued with its peculiarities. Within one calendar year, the superintendent and the school board membership changed three times. The Arkansas General Assembly targeted the NAACP (Act 115) and public school teachers (Act 10) with threatening legislation. The latter required teachers and all public employees to sign affidavits listing all organizations to which they belonged and/or paid dues, while the former immediately fired any teacher or state employee who was a member of the NAACP. By May 1959, forty-four teachers and administrators were fired without due process by a rump session of the school board: only three members of the six-member board took the action, declaring themselves a quorum, which was illegal. Though no academic work was conducted in public high schools in 1958–59, high school football games continued for the season by order of the governor.

Perhaps the greatest consequences were the effects on displaced students and their families. Some of the educational alternatives that displaced students found were nearby public schools, in-state public schools where students lived with friends or relatives, out-of-state public and private schools, correspondence courses, parochial schooling, and early entrance into college. Nearby schools such as Jacksonville (Pulaski County) and Mabelvale (Pulaski County) for white students and Wrightsville (Pulaski County) for black students absorbed as many students as they could. Some students, as young as fifteen years old, moved in with relatives in public schools across all of Arkansas, and even out of state. The number of displaced white students was 2,915. Of those, thirty-five percent found public schools to attend in the state. Private schools in Little Rock took forty-four percent of the displaced white students. A total of ninety-three percent of white students found some form of alternative schooling. This was not the case for displaced black students. Among the 750 black students who were displaced, thirty-seven percent found public schools in Arkansas to attend. Some located parochial schooling, out-of-state public and private schooling, and some did enter college early or take correspondence courses. However, fifty percent of displaced black students found no schooling at all. The NAACP, through Roy Wilkins, stated that opening private high schools for displaced black students would defeat their intent to gain equal access for all students to public education. Some of the students from both races went to the military, some went to work, and some married early or simply dropped out. Interviews with many former students indicate lifelong consequences because of this denial of a free public education.

Throughout the Lost Year, several groups organized either to support closed schools or to open them. Among those who worked tirelessly for the latter cause was a large group of white, upper-class women called the Women’s Emergency Committee to Open our Schools (WEC). They organized voter registration, promoted the election of moderates to the legislature and the school board, and worked with others after the teacher purge. The Capital Citizens Council (CCC) and the Mothers League of Central High supported segregation. The purge of forty-four teachers on May 5, 1959, brought voters from both sides of the spectrum to organize a recall of either segregationists or moderates from the Little Rock School Board. This twenty-day campaign was led by two hastily formed groups: the Committee to Retain Our Segregated Schools (CROSS) and a group called STOP (which stood for “Stop This Outrageous Purge”), which worked with the WEC. The Lost Year ended with a recall of three segregationist members of the Little Rock School Board on May 25, 1959. Voters in Little Rock, after a year of closed public high schools and after the firing of teachers, were finally willing to accept limited desegregation. The federal courts followed on June 18, 1959, when a three-judge federal district court declared unconstitutional Arkansas’s closure of schools and withholding of funds (instituted under Act 4 and Act 5).On June 11, the vacancies on the Little Rock School Board were filled by the Pulaski County Board of Education, and all four secondary schools opened early—on August 12, 1959. Token desegregation continued slowly in Little Rock until federal courts encouraged the use of busing to fully integrate all public schools in the nation. In Little Rock, this went into full force in 1971, a date that coincides with white flight to the suburbs and to private schools that opened to serve that constituency.

For additional information:
Alexander, H. M. The Little Rock Recall Election. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1960.

Bartley, Numan. The Rise of Massive Resistance. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1969.

Brewer, Vivion. The Embattled Ladies of Little Rock, 1958–1963: The Struggle to Save Public Education at Central High. Fort Bragg, CA: Lost Coast Press, 1999.

Cope, Graeme. “‘A Mockery for Education’? Little Rock’s Thomas J. Raney High School during the Lost Year, 1958–1959.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 78 (Autumn 2019): 248–273.

———. “‘The Workingest, Fightingest, Band of Patriots in the South’? The Mothers’ League of Central High School during the Lost Year, 1958–1959.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 72 (Summer 2013): 139–157.

Elizabeth Huckaby Papers, 1957–1978. Special Collections. University of Arkansas Libraries, Fayetteville, Arkansas.

Gordy, Sondra. Finding the Lost Year: What Happened When Little Rock Closed its Public Schools? Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2009

———. “Teachers of the Lost Year: Little Rock School District, 1958–59.” PhD diss., University of Arkansas at Little Rock, 1996.

Hubbard, Sandra. The Giants Wore White Gloves. Documentary film. Little Rock: Morning Star Studio, 2004.

———. The Lost Year. Documentary film. Little Rock: Morning Star Studio, 2007.

The Lost Year Project. (accessed March 11, 2021).

Walthall, J. H. “A Study of Certain Factors of School Closing in 1958 as They Affected the Seniors of the White Comprehensive High Schools in Little Rock, Arkansas.” PhD diss., University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, 1963.

1849 The Massachusetts Supreme Court rules that segregated schools are permissible under the state's constitution. (Roberts v. City of Boston) The U.S. Supreme Court will later use this case to support the "separate but equal" doctrine.

1857 With the Dred Scott decision, the Supreme Court upholds the denial of citizenship to African Americans and rules that descendants of slaves are "so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect."

1861 Southern states secede from the Union. The Civil War begins.

1863 President Lincoln issues the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing slaves in Southern states. Because the Civil War is ongoing, the Proclamation has little practical effect.

1865 The Civil War ends the Thirteenth Amendment is enacted to abolish slavery.

1868 The Fourteenth Amendment is ratified, guaranteeing "equal protection under the law" citizenship is extended to African Americans.

1875 Congress passes the Civil Rights Act of 1875, which bans racial discrimination in public accommodations.

1883 The Supreme Court strikes down the Civil Rights Act of 1875 finding that discrimination by individuals or private businesses is constitutional.

1890 Louisiana passes the first Jim Crow law requiring separate accommodations for Whites and Blacks.

1896 The Supreme Court authorizes segregation in Plessy v. Ferguson, finding Louisiana's "separate but equal" law constitutional. The ruling, built on notions of white supremacy and black inferiority, provides legal justification for Jim Crow laws in southern states.

1899 The Supreme Court allows a state to levy taxes on black and white citizens alike while providing a public school for white children only. (Cumming v. Richmond (Ga.) County Board of Education)

1908 The Supreme Court upholds a state's authority to require a private college to operate on a segregated basis despite the wishes of the school. (Berea College v. Kentucky)

1927 The Supreme Court finds that states possess the right to define a Chinese student as non-white for the purpose of segregating public schools. (Gong Lum v. Rice)

1936 The Maryland Supreme Court orders the state's white law school to enroll a black student because there is no state-supported law school for Blacks in Maryland. (University of Maryland v. Murray)

1938 The Supreme Court rules the practice of sending black students out of state for legal training when the state provides a law school for whites within its borders does not fulfill the state's "separate but equal" obligation. The Court orders Missouri's all-white law school to grant admission to an African American student. (Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada)

1940 30% of Americans — 40% of Northerners and 2% of Southerners — believe that Whites and Blacks should attend the same schools.

A federal court requires equal salaries for African American and white teachers. (Alston v. School Board of City of Norfolk)

1947 In a precursor to the Brown case, a federal appeals court strikes down segregated schooling for Mexican American and white students. (Westminster School Dist. v. Mendez) The verdict prompts California Governor Earl Warren to repeal a state law calling for segregation of Native American and Asian American students.

1948 Arkansas desegregates its state university.

The Supreme Court orders the admission of a black student to the University of Oklahoma School of Law, a white school, because there is no law school for Blacks. (Sipuel v. Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma)

1950 The Supreme Court rejects Texas' plan to create a new law school for black students rather than admit an African American to the state's whites-only law school. (Sweatt v. Painter)

The Supreme Court rules that learning in law school "cannot be effective in isolation from the individuals and institutions with which the law interacts." The decision stops short of overturning Plessy.

The Supreme Court holds that the policy of isolating a black student from his peers within a white law school is unconstitutional. (McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education)

Barbara Johns, a 16-year-old junior at Robert R. Moton High School in Farmville, Va., organizes and leads 450 students in an anti-school segregation strike.

1952 The Supreme Court hears oral arguments in Brown v. Board of Education. Thurgood Marshall, who will later become the first African American justice on the Supreme Court, is the lead counsel for the black school children.

1953 Earl Warren is appointed Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court hears the second round of arguments in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka.

1954 In a unanimous opinion, the Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education overturns Plessy and declares that separate schools are "inherently unequal." The Court delays deciding on how to implement the decision and asks for another round of arguments.

The Court rules that the federal government is under the same duty as the states and must desegregate the Washington, D.C., schools. (Bolling v. Sharpe)

1955 In Brown II, the Supreme Court orders the lower federal courts to require desegregation "with all deliberate speed."

1955 Between 1955 and 1960, federal judges will hold more than 200 school desegregation hearings.

1956 49% of Americans — 61% of Northerners and 15% of Southerners — believe that Whites and Blacks should attend the same schools.

Tennessee Governor Frank Clement calls in the National Guard after white mobs attempt to block the desegregation of a high school.

Under court order, the University of Alabama admits Autherine Lucy, its first African American student. White students and residents riot. Lucy is suspended and later expelled for criticizing the university.

The Virginia legislature calls for "massive resistance" to school desegregation and pledges to close schools under desegregation orders.

1957 More than 1,000 paratroopers from the 101st Airborne Division and a federalized Arkansas National Guard protect nine black students integrating Central High School in Little Rock, Ark.

1958 The Supreme Court rules that fear of social unrest or violence, whether real or constructed by those wishing to oppose integration, does not excuse state governments from complying with Brown. (Cooper v. Aaron)

10,000 young people march in Washington, D.C., in support of integration.

1959 25,000 young people march in Washington, D.C., in support of integration.

Prince Edward County, Va., officials close their public schools rather than integrate them. White students attend private academies black students do not head back to class until 1963, when the Ford Foundation funds private black schools. The Supreme Court orders the county to reopen its schools on a desegregated basis in 1964.

1960 In New Orleans, federal marshals shielded Ruby Bridges, Gail St. Etienne, Leona Tate and Tessie Prevost from angry crowds as they enrolled in school.

1961 A federal district court orders the University of Georgia to admit African American students Hamilton Holmes and Charlayne Hunter. After a riot on campus, the two are suspended. A court later reinstates them.

1962 A federal appeals court orders the University of Mississippi to admit James Meredith, an African American student. Upon his arival, a mob of more than 2,000 white people riots.

1963 62% of Americans — 73% of Northerners and 31% of Southerners — believe Blacks and Whites should attend the same schools.

Two African American students, Vivian Malone and James A. Hood, successfully register at the University of Alabama despite George Wallace's "stand in the schoolhouse door" — but only after President Kennedy federalizes the Alabama National Guard.

For the first time, a small number of black students in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Mississippi attend public elementary and secondary schools with white students.

1964 The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is adopted. Title IV of the Act authorizes the federal government to file school desegregation cases. Title VI of the Act prohibits discrimination in programs and activities, including schools, receiving federal financial assistance.

The Rev. Bruce Klunder is killed protesting the construction of a new segregated school in Cleveland, Ohio.

1968 The Supreme Court orders states to dismantle segregated school systems "root and branch." The Court identifies five factors — facilities, staff, faculty, extracurricular activities and transportation — to be used to gauge a school system's compliance with the mandate of Brown. (Green v. County School Board of New Kent County)

In a private note to Justice Brennan, Justice Warren writes: "When this opinion is handed down, the traffic light will have changed from Brown to Green. Amen!"

1969 The Supreme Court declares the "all deliberate speed" standard is no longer constitutionally permissible and orders the immediate desegregation of Mississippi schools. (Alexander v. Holmes County Board of Education)

1971 The Court approves busing, magnet schools, compensatory education and other tools as appropriate remedies to overcome the role of residential segregation in perpetuating racially segregated schools. (Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenberg Board of Education)

1972 The Supreme Court refuses to allow public school systems to avoid desegregation by creating new, mostly or all-white "splinter districts." (Wright v. Council of the City of Emporia United States v. Scotland Neck City Board of Education)

Brown's legacy extends to gender. Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972 is passed prohibiting sex discrimination in any educational program that receives federal financial assistance.

1973 Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act is passed prohibiting schools from discriminating against students with mental or physical impairments.

The Supreme Court rules that states cannot provide textbooks to racially segregated private schools to avoid integration mandates. (Norwood v. Harrison)

The Supreme Court finds that the Denver school board intentionally segregated Mexican American and black students from white students. (Keyes v. Denver School District No. 1) The Court distinguishes between state-mandated segregation (de jure) and segregation that is the result of private choices (de facto). The latter form of segregation, the Court rules, is not unconstitutional

The Supreme Court rules that education is not a "fundamental right" and that the Constitution does not require equal education expenditures within a state. (San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez) The ruling has the effect of locking minority and poor children who live in low-income areas into inferior schools.

1974 The Supreme Court blocks metropolitan-wide desegregation plans as a means to desegregate urban schools with high minority populations. (Milliken v. Bradley) As a result, Brown will not have a substantial impact on many racially isolated urban districts.

Non-English-speaking Chinese students file suit against the San Francisco Unified School District for failing to provide instruction to those with limited English proficiency. The Supreme Court rules that the failure to do so violates Title VI's prohibition of national origin, race or color discrimination in school districts receiving federal funds. (Lau v. Nichols)

1978 A fractured Supreme Court declares the affirmative action admissions program for the University of California Davis Medical School unconstitutional because it set aside a specific number of seats for black and Latino students. The Court rules that race can be a factor in university admissions, but it cannot be the deciding factor. (Regents of the University of California v. Bakke)

1982 The Supreme Court rejects tax exemptions for private religious schools that discriminate. (Bob Jones University v. U.S. Goldboro Christian Schools v. U.S.)

1986 For the first time, a federal court finds that once a school district meets the Green factors, it can be released from its desegregation plan and returned to local control. (Riddick v. School Board of the City of Norfolk, Virginia)

1988 School integration reaches its all-time high almost 45% of black students in the United States are attending majority-white schools.

1991 Emphasizing that court orders are not intended "to operate in perpetuity," the Supreme Court makes it easier for formerly segregated school systems to fulfill their obligations under desegregation decrees. (Board of Education of Oklahoma City v. Dowell) After being released from a court order, the Oklahoma City school system abandons its desegregation efforts and returns to neighborhood schools.

1992 The Supreme Court further speeds the end of desegregation cases, ruling that school systems can fulfill their obligations in an incremental fashion. (Freeman v. Pitts)

The Supreme Court rules that the adoption of race-neutral measures does not, by itself, fulfill the Constitutional obligation to desegregate colleges and universities that were segregated by law. (United States v. Fordice)

1995 The Supreme Court sets a new goal for desegregation plans: the return of schools to local control. It emphasizes again that judicial remedies were intended to be "limited in time and extent." (Missouri v. Jenkins)

1996 A federal appeals court prohibits the use of race in college and university admissions, ending affirmative action in Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi. (Hopwood v. Texas)

2001 White parents in Charlotte, N.C., schools successfully seek an end to the desegregation process and a bar to the use of race in making student assignments.

2002 A report from Harvard's Civil Rights Project concludes that America's schools are resegregating.

2003 The Supreme Court upholds diversity as a rationale for affirmative action programs in higher education admissions, but concludes that point systems are not appropriate. (Grutter v. Bollinger Gratz v. Bollinger)

A federal district court case affirms the value of racial diversity and race-conscious student assignment plans in K-12 education. (Lynn v. Comfort)

A study by Harvard's Civil Rights Project finds that schools were more segregated in 2000 than in 1970 when busing for desegregation began.

2004 The nation marks the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education.

2007 In Parents Involved, the Supreme Court finds voluntary school integration plans unconstitutional, paving the way for contemporary school segregation to escalate.

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Civil Rights: The Little Rock School Integration Crisis

On May 17, 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education that segregated schools are "inherently unequal." In September 1957, as a result of that ruling, nine African-American students enrolled at Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. The ensuing struggle between segregationists and integrationists, the State of Arkansas and the federal government, President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus, has become known in modern American history as the "Little Rock Crisis." The crisis gained world-wide attention. When Governor Faubus ordered the Arkansas National Guard to surround Central High School to keep the nine students from entering the school, President Eisenhower ordered the 101st Airborne Division into Little Rock to insure the safety of the "Little Rock Nine" and that the rulings of the Supreme Court were upheld. The manuscript holdings of the Eisenhower Presidential Library contain a large amount of documentation on this historic test of the Brown vs. Topeka ruling and school integration.

Press release, President Eisenhower's telegram to Governor Faubus, September 5, 1957 [Kevin McCann Collection of Press and Radio Conferences and Press Releases, Box 20, September 1957 NAID #12237650]

Press release, statements by President Eisenhower and Governor Faubus from Newport, Rhode Island, September 14, 1957 [Kevin McCann Collection of Press and Radio Conferences and Press Releases, Box 20, September 1957 NAID #17366732]

Telegram, Woodrow Wilson Mann to President Eisenhower, September 24, 1957 [DDE's Records as President, Official File, Box 615, OF 142-A-5-A (2) NAID #17366836]

Letter, President Eisenhower to General Alfred Gruenther, September 24, 1957 [DDE's Papers as President, Administration Series, Box 16, Alfred M. Gruenther 1956-57 (2) NAID #17368373]

Press release, containing speech on radio and television by President Eisenhower, September 24, 1957[Kevin McCann Collection of Press and Radio Conferences and Press Releases, Box 20, September 1957 NAID #17366765]

Radio and Television Address to the American People on the Situation in Little Rock, September 24, 1957 [Audio recording: 1/4 in. open reel Presidential Series: Press Conferences, Impromptu Remarks, and Radio Addresses EL-D16-89]

Draft of above speech on Little Rock, undated [DDE’s Papers as President, Speech Series, Box 22, Integration-Little Rock Ark 9/24/1957 NAID #12237735]

Telephone calls, September 24, 1957 [DDE's Papers as President, DDE Diary Series, Box 27, Sept. 1957 Telephone Calls NAID #17368366]

Telephone calls, September 25, 1957 [DDE's Papers as President, DDE Diary Series, Box 27, Sept. 1957 Telephone Calls NAID #17368370]

Telegram, Georgia Senator Richard B. Russell to President Eisenhower, September 26, 1957 [DDE's Papers as President, Administration Series, Box 23, Little Rock Arkansas (2) NAID #17366867]

Letter, President Eisenhower to Senator Russell, September 27, 1957 [DDE's Papers as President, Administration Series, Box 23, Little Rock Ark (2) NAID #17366869]

Letter, President Eisenhower to Senator Stennis, October 7, 1957 [DDE's Records as President, Official File, Box 615, OF 142-A-5-A (7) NAID #17366882]

Situation Report No. 176, by the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Military Operations, December 17, 1957 [Office of the Staff Secretary, Subject Series, Alphabetical Subseries, Box 17, Little Rock Vol. I—Reports (7) NAID #17367068]

Situation Report No. 211, February 6, 1958 [Office of the Staff Secretary, Subject Series, Alphabetical Subseries, Box 17, Little Rock Vol. I—Reports (8) NAID #17367081]

Situation Report No. 217, February 14, 1958 [Office of the Staff Secretary, Subject Series, Alphabetical Subseries, Box 17, Little Rock Vol. I—Reports (8) NAID #17367504]

Situation Report No. 218, February 17, 1958 [Office of the Staff Secretary, Subject Series, Alphabetical Subseries, Box 17, Little Rock Vol. I—Reports (8) NAID #17367509]

Situation Report No. 226, February 27, 1958 [Office of the Staff Secretary, Subject Series, Alphabetical Subseries, Box 17, Little Rock Vol. I—Reports (8) NAID #17367516]

Situation Report No. 233, March 10, 1958 [Office of the Staff Secretary, Subject Series, Alphabetical Subseries, Box 17, Little Rock Vol. I—Reports (8) NAID #17367521]

Letter, Jackie Robinson to President Eisenhower, May 13, 1958 [DDE's Records as President, Official File, Box 614, OF 142-A (6) NAID #17368592]

Letter, President Eisenhower to Jackie Robinson, June 4, 1958 [DDE's Records as President, Official File, Box 614, OF 142-A (6) NAID #17368593]

Secondary Sources:

The Eisenhower Administration and Black Civil Rights by Robert F. Burk, Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1984.

A Moderate Among Extremists: Dwight D. Eisenhower and the School Desegregation Crisis by James C. Duram, Chicago: Nelson-Hall, 1981.

The White House Years: Waging Peace, 1956-1961 by Dwight D. Eisenhower, Heinemann: London, 1966.

Crisis at Central High by Elizabeth Huckaby, Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1980.

Simple Justice: The History of Brown v. Board of Education and Black America's Struggle for Equality by Richard Kluger, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1976.

Black Man in the White House by E. Frederic Morrow, New York: Coward-McCann, 1963.

William Fulbright, the Southern Manifesto and the path to the Central High crisis

On May 7, 1955, Little Rock civil rights activist Ozell Sutton penned an article for the Chicago Defender, perhaps the nation’s most important Black newspaper at the time, boasting of his state’s progress in ending racial segregation. Entitled “Arkansas Leads In Integration,” the piece quoted an unnamed National Association for the Advancement of Colored People field representative calling the state “the bright spot of the South” in terms of implementing the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision prohibiting state-mandated school segregation.

The tragic irony of Sutton’s boast is not lost on those who have paid attention to our state’s history. Only 28 months later, the crisis at Little Rock’s Central High transformed Arkansas into the poster child for massive resistance to school integration. News broadcasts around the globe showed Orval Faubus, Arkansas’s wildly popular governor, siding with thugs and bigots rather than with the nine Black students who comported themselves with staggering amounts of dignity. These images continue to define the state.

When looking for that point at which the progress described by Sutton ended and the descent into the ugliness at Central High began, nothing stands out as much as U.S. Senator J. William Fulbright and the rest of Arkansas’s congressional delegation’s signing of the Southern Manifesto on March 12, 1956. Grounded in an interpretation of the Constitution that gutted the 14th Amendment, especially its equal protection clause, the Manifesto declared the Brown decision to be a “clear abuse of judicial power” and encouraged states and their citizens to resist its mandates.

Fulbright’s apologists like to claim that the senator’s sins during the Central High crisis were ones of omission rather than commission — that he played no significant role in stoking segregationist outrage, but rather simply did little to stop it. But they are wrong. As an author and signatory of the Southern Manifesto, Fulbright provided a false cover of legitimacy to segregationists and emboldened them to defy the Brown decision.

The constitutional interpretation put forth in the Southern Manifesto contradicted the state’s official position that the Brown decision was correct and must be complied with, a position that had undergirded much of the progress described by Sutton. At the time Fulbright signed the Manifesto, polls showed that most white Arkansans disliked the Brown decision and with it the prospects of racial integration, but the state’s nascent segregationist movement had made little progress and attracted only a few followers. Most white Arkansans, it seems, were unwilling to fight integration or doubted that such a fight could be successful. But the Manifesto changed that. By signing, Fulbright and the rest of the state’s delegation — the most powerful and respected leaders in the state — provided the false hope that convinced the protestors that they could prevent the integration of Central High.

Governor Francis Cherry signaled Arkansas’s acceptance of the Brown decision just a day after the Supreme Court’s ruling. He simply declared, “Arkansas will observe the law. It always has.” Likewise, the speaker of the Arkansas House of Representatives did not sound happy with the decision, but said, “We’ve got to live with it. We might as well do what we have to do with as little fuss and as much thought as possible.” Arkansas Attorney General Thomas Jefferson Gentry gave a stern warning to a group of East Arkansas leaders: “Desegregation has been declared the law of the land and we are going to have to abide by it.” Both Cherry and Gentry turned down invitations to meetings organized by counterparts in other parts of the South to devise strategies to circumvent the Supreme Court’s decision.

Given the widespread acceptance of the Brown decision’s legitimacy, it is not surprising that Arkansas was the first state of the former Confederacy to witness school districts desegregating. In July 1954, Charleston’s school board unanimously decided to “disband the Colored School and admit the Colored children into the grade and high school” and when classes started on August 23 there was hardly a ripple of unrest. The following week, when Fayetteville High School integrated, the national praise the district received drowned out the single man with a sign who showed up to protest.

Attorney General Gentry more fully articulated the state’s official acceptance of Brown that autumn in a brief filed for the Brown II hearings held to allow the court to hear from southern states about implementing the first Brown decision. The Arkansas brief began by emphasizing “that nothing contained in this brief is intended to bring into question the correctness of the [Brown] ruling.” In accepting the idea that racial segregation laws violated the 14th Amendment’s “equal protection” clause, Gentry stood alone among the attorneys general from former Confederate states, most of them submitting briefs that anticipated the ideas that would find their way into the Southern Manifesto the following year. Gentry did ask, though, that the court allow Arkansas and other states to abolish segregation gradually.

Gentry’s brief provided the rationale for the integration of Arkansas’s public undergraduate institutions. Responding to a request from the college presidents for legal advice about how to respond if Black students requested admission, the attorney general explained in the summer of 1955 that Brown’s prohibition of segregation in “public education” applied to state-supported colleges and universities, invalidated the state law mandating segregation at their institutions, and required them to treat black and white students equally. He added that, if schools did deny admission to students on the basis of race, his office would not defend them in court.

A few of the college presidents greeted Gentry’s opinion with enthusiasm, giving them political and legal cover to proceed with integration. Arkansas State’s Carl Reng — who had earlier helped integrate graduate programs at the University of Arkansas — announced, “We are going to cooperate wholeheartedly with the spirit of the Supreme Court’s decision.” When the fall 1955 term began, Arkansas Tech and Henderson State joined Arkansas State in enrolling their first Black students and the University of Arkansas accepted its first Black undergraduate since the 1870s (there is no evidence that Black applicants were turned away at the other campuses). While these first Black undergraduates faced harassment, there were no organized protests or vocal opposition.

The start of the 1955 school year witnessed the peaceful integration of more Northwest Arkansas districts with a few Black students, but most of the attention focused on the contentious yet successful integration of Hoxie schools. The conflict witnessed school board members committed to doing “right in the sight of God” prevail over an organized opposition determined to prevent Black children from attending the same schools as White ones. As University of Arkansas at Little Rock historian John Kirk has noted, “The Hoxie episode demonstrated how a resilient and determined local leadership, aided by the courts, could implement desegregation.”

The relatively successful Brown-driven school integration efforts encouraged the dropping of the color-line elsewhere in public life. This was most clearly seen in Little Rock, where Mayor Woodrow Mann — elected in November 1955 with Gentry’s backing — desegregated the drinking fountains at City Hall, appointed Blacks to previously all-white municipal boards, and led the effort to charter greater Little Rock’s new bus company, which hit the streets on March 2, 1956, without the infamous signs directing black passengers to the rear. As with the integration of the colleges, very few people made a fuss about the changes in Little Rock, which occurred at the very time Fulbright and the rest of the state’s delegation were deciding whether to sign the Manifesto.

So, while there were certainly vocal pockets of segregationist agitation like those seen in Hoxie, there was no potent statewide segregationist movement when Fulbright crafted the Southern Manifesto. He and other so-called moderates later claimed they had signed the Manifesto because the people of Arkansas demanded it, but that simply was not the case. Polling data from the time shows most white Arkansans preferred to maintain segregated schools. But the early progress toward integration and the anemic state of the segregationist movement suggests that, before March 1956, they generally accepted the Brown decision as legitimate and realized they would eventually have to obey the law.

But Fulbright and Arkansas’s seven other signers of the Southern Manifesto endorsed the myth that legitimized the massive resistance efforts that would culminate on the streets outside of Central High — namely, that the Brown decision was illegitimate, and states and their citizens could and should prevent its implementation.

In her coverage of the signing of the Southern Manifesto, Arkansas Gazette Washington, D.C., correspondent Liz Carpenter made it clear that the signers were playing with fire and that others had warned them. She quoted several of the 31 southern legislators who refused to sign (two from Florida, four from North Carolina, seven from Tennessee, 18 from Texas). One unnamed legislator worried that his colleagues were being short-sighted — concerned only with their immediate popularity and willing to ignore the “long-term liability.” Harold Cooley, who represented North Carolina’s Fourth District from 1934 until 1966, was blunter. He called the Manifesto a “dangerous document” that “holds out the false hope that legal means are available for upsetting the Supreme Court ban [on school segregation].” Carpenter concluded by wondering if the short-term benefits accrued to the signers would be outweighed by long-term damage.

U.S. National Archives and Records Administration SOUTHERN MANIFESTO: Fulbright’s support of it helped legitimize a fledgling segregationist movement in Arkansas.

Just days after Fulbright and his compatriots signed the Southern Manifesto, the state’s most rabid segregationists held a rally in Jacksonville that demonstrated how they would use the Manifesto to help energize their crusade. Rally organizers expected a huge turnout from across the state, securing a centrally located venue that could accommodate a crowd of 5,000, but reporters counted just 87 people at the start of the proceedings. A few more would straggle in. The poor attendance, though, did little to dampen the excitement over the just signed Southern Manifesto. After a series of speeches, one of which demanded that Arkansas’s Blacks be confined to a special reservation, Little Rock’s most prominent segregationist, Amis Guthridge, explained why the Manifesto was a game changer: “We are not going to have trouble with public office holders.”

In the following months, the segregationist movement expanded by leaps and bounds as white Arkansans bought into the myth endorsed by Fulbright that the Brown ruling (and U.S. Constitution) could be resisted. The two main gubernatorial candidates in the summer of 1956 — incumbent Orval Faubus and challenger Jim Johnson — made this myth central to their campaigns. Johnson travelled the state promising white Arkansans that they could protect themselves by ratifying his proposed state constitutional amendment that nullified what he called the Supreme Court’s unconstitutional desegregation decisions. Not to be outdone, Faubus promised that no Arkansas school district would be forced to integrate by the federal courts, and his supporters arranged to have an interposition measure put on the general election ballot. Both segregationist proposals easily passed, a sign that the conversation among white Arkansans had shifted from “How do we best follow a legitimate court decision that we don’t particularly like?” to “How do we fight an illegitimate court decision?”

Scores of Arkansas politicians — some true believers and others seeking political gain — stoked the anger of those who ringed Central High School to stop the nine Black students. The belief that the Supreme Court had abused its authority and the false hope that its ruling could be defied animated the mob that terrorized the Little Rock Nine and prompted President Dwight D. Eisenhower to call in the 101st Airborne.

Cambridge University historian Anthony Badger suggests that Fulbright would not have faced any serious challenge to his reelection in 1956 even had he refused to sign the Southern Manifesto. The senator had the support of the state’s political kingmaker, Witt Stephens. Potential segregationist challenger Ben Laney was a dreadful politician who had lost his last statewide election in a landslide. Fulbright signed the Manifesto, Badger concludes, because he was racist. This interpretation aligns with that of Fulbright’s most respected biographer, the University of Arkansas’s Randall Woods. Woods makes clear that Fulbright did not see Black Arkansans as truly equal to their White counterparts and wanted to prevent school integration. Over the course of his Senate career, Fulbright would vote against other measures designed to promote Black rights, including postwar Fair Employment Practices legislation, the Civil Rights Act of 1957, the 24th Amendment (abolition of the poll tax for federal elections), the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Fair Housing Act of 1968.

One of the most enduring myths in Arkansas’s history is that J. William Fulbright was a racial moderate and that his signing of the Southern Manifesto was a political necessity. To make these claims, Fulbright’s apologists have to ignore the progress described by Ozell Sutton and ignore the way in which the Manifesto gave credence to a fledgling movement to resist desegregation. Excusing Fulbright’s defiance of the Supreme Court erases the legacies of true racial moderates, men like Carl Reng, Tom Gentry, and those who served on the Hoxie school board.

Michael Pierce, an associate professor of history at the University of Arkansas, is working on a book manuscript about the rise and fall of New Deal/Great Society liberalism in Arkansas. His essays have appeared in the Journal of Southern History, Agricultural History, Arkansas Historical Quarterly, and numerous edited volumes.

Desegregation of Central High School

In its 1954 Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that racial segregation in public education was a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. As school districts across the South sought various ways to respond to the court’s ruling, Little Rock (Pulaski County) Central High School became a national and international symbol of resistance to desegregation.

On May 22, 1954, the Little Rock School Board issued a statement saying that it would comply with the Court’s decision, once the court outlined the method and time frame for implementation. Meanwhile, the board directed Superintendent Virgil Blossom to formulate a plan for desegregation. In May 1955, the school board adopted the Phase Program Plan of gradual desegregation that became known as the Blossom Plan, after its author.

The plan was originally conceived to begin at the elementary school level. However, as parents of elementary school students became some of the most outspoken patrons against integration, district officials decided to begin token desegregation in the fall of 1957 at Central High School, to expand to the junior high level by 1960 and, tentatively, to the elementary level by 1963. The plan also included a transfer provision that would allow students to transfer from a school where their race was in the minority. This assured that students at Horace Mann High School would remain predominantly African-American.

Later that May, the U.S Supreme Court issued its Brown II decision, directing districts to proceed with desegregation with “all deliberate speed.” The Court returned the case to federal district courts for implementation.

In February 1956, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) filed suit against the Little Rock School District on behalf of thirty-three African-American students who had attempted to register in all-white schools. In the suit, Aaron v. Cooper, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit upheld the school district’s position that the Blossom Plan complied with the Supreme Court’s instructions. The federal court retained jurisdiction in the case, making compliance with the plan mandatory.

Meanwhile, across the South, resistance to desegregation grew. Nineteen U.S. senators and eighty-one congressmen, including all eight members from Arkansas, signed the “Southern Manifesto” denouncing the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision and urging Southern states to resist it. In Little Rock, the Capital Citizens’ Council—a local version of the white citizens’ councils that were emerging across Arkansas and the South—formed in 1956 to promote public resistance to desegregation. The organization purchased newspaper advertisements attacking integration and held rallies at which speakers challenged Arkansans to resist. In one of the more publicized events, Georgia Governor Marvin Griffin and former Georgia state representative and state senator Roy V. Harris, frequent speakers at white citizens’ council rallies across the South, assured listeners at a Capital Citizens’ Council fundraiser that Georgia would not allow school desegregation and called upon Arkansans to support white supremacy and defend segregation. With fall of 1957 fast approaching, both segregationists and school district officials appealed to Governor Orval Faubus to take action to preserve order. In a letter-writing campaign to the governor, segregationists predicted that violence would erupt if desegregation proceeded at Central High School. School district officials appealed to the governor to assure the public that desegregation would proceed smoothly. Faubus, in turn, asked the federal government for assistance in the event of trouble. Arthur B. Caldwell, head of the Department of Justice’s civil rights division, met with Faubus on August 28, 1957, and advised him that the federal government could not promise advance responsibility for maintaining order. Angered when the press received a report of the meeting, Faubus told reporters that the federal government was trying to force integration on an unwilling public while at the same time demanding that states handle any problems that might arise on their own.

Closely aligned with the Capital Citizens’ Council, the Mothers’ League of Central High, formed by Margaret Jackson and Nadine Aaron in August, petitioned the governor to prevent desegregation at the school. The group filed a petition on August 27, 1957, seeking a temporary injunction against integration. Pulaski Chancellor Murray Reed granted the injunction on the grounds that desegregation could lead to violence. The next day, however, Federal District Judge Ronald Davies nullified the injunction and ordered the Little Rock School Board to proceed with its desegregation plan. The conflict reached crisis proportions when Faubus appeared on television on September 2, 1957, and announced that he had called out units of the Arkansas National Guard to prevent violence at Central High School, saying, “There is evidence of disorder and threats of disorder which could have but one inevitable result—that is violence, which can lead to injury and the doing of harm to persons and property.” School district officials advised the black students who had registered at Central not to try and attend for the first day of classes on September 3. Davies ordered the school board to proceed with desegregation the next day.

On September 4, 1957, nine African-American students attempted to enter Central High School. Several of them made their way to one corner of the campus where the National Guard turned them away. One of them, fifteen-year-old Elizabeth Eckford, arrived at the north end of the campus and was directed away by National Guardsmen. She walked south down Park Street in front of the school campus, surrounded by a growing crowd of protesters who jeered and taunted her. Eckford made her way to a bus stop on the south side of the campus and was able to board a bus and get away to safety at her mother’s workplace. The next morning, people around the country and world opened their newspapers to images of the teenager besieged by an angry mob of students and adults.

The Little Rock School Board asked Davies to suspend his desegregation order temporarily, but the judge refused and ordered the school district to proceed with desegregation. The judge also instructed U.S. Attorney General Herbert Brownell Jr. to file a petition for an injunction against Faubus and two officers of the Arkansas National Guard to prevent them from obstructing the court order to desegregate. In the interim, U.S. Congressman Brooks Hays, a Democrat, arranged a meeting between Faubus and President Dwight D. Eisenhower to try and reach a solution to the crisis. They met at Eisenhower’s vacation home in Newport, Rhode Island, on September 14, but the meeting ended without an agreement.

On September 20, 1957, Judge Davies ordered Faubus and the National Guard commanders to stop interfering with the court’s desegregation order. Faubus removed the guardsmen from the school and left the state for a Southern governors’ conference in Georgia. The following Monday, September 23, 1957, Little Rock police were left to control an unruly mob that quickly grew to over 1,000 people as the nine African-American students entered the school through a side door. The crowd’s attention was diverted when some of the protestors chased and beat four African-American reporters outside the school. By lunchtime, police and school officials feared that some in the crowd might try to storm the school and removed the nine students for their safety.

Little Rock Mayor Woodrow Mann asked the federal government for assistance, and President Eisenhower issued Executive Order 10730, sending units of the U.S. Army’s 101 st Airborne Division to Little Rock and federalizing the Arkansas National Guard.

These U.S. Army troops escorted the “Little Rock Nine,” as they became known, into Central High School on September 25, 1957. After weeks of turmoil and trying to keep up with their work without attending school, the students went to their classes guarded by soldiers. Faubus appeared on television saying that Little Rock was “now an occupied territory.”

By October 1, most of the enforcement duty was turned over to the National Guard troops, and the U.S. Army troops were completely removed by the end of November. On October 25, one month after they arrived with a federal troop escort, the Little Rock Nine rode to school for the first time in civilian vehicles. While conditions calmed outside the campus, inside the school, the Nine endured an endless campaign of verbal and physical harassment at the hands of some of their fellow students for the remainder of the year. More than 100 white students were suspended, and four were expelled, during the year. One of the Nine, Minnijean Brown, was expelled in February 1958 for retaliating against the abuse she was struck by a white student and called the student “white trash” in response.

In spite of the abuse, the bomb threats, and all other disruptions to the learning environment, the only senior among the Nine, Ernest Green, became Central High’s first African-American graduate on May 27, 1958. Of his experience that year, Green said, “It’s been an interesting year…. I’ve had a course in human relations firsthand.” The 1957 Central High Crisis came to symbolize both massive resistance to social change and the federal government’s commitment to enforcing African-American civil rights.

Green’s graduation did not end the “crisis” in Little Rock, however. As the NAACP continued to press for continued desegregation through the federal courts, segregationist and moderate whites began a struggle of their own for control of local schools that would not end until the public high schools closed for the duration of the 1958–59 school year, what is known as the Lost Year, and finally reopened in the fall of 1959.

For additional information:
Anderson, Karen. Little Rock: Race and Resistance at Central High School. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009.

———. “The Little Rock School Desegregation Crisis: Moderation and Social Conflict.” Journal of Southern History 70 (August 2004): 603–636.

Ashmore, Harry S. Civil Rights and Wrongs: A Memoir of Race and Politics, 1944–1996. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1994.

Baer, Frances Lisa. Resistance to Public School Desegregation: Little Rock, Arkansas and Beyond. New York: LFB Scholarly Publishing, 2008.

Bates, Daisy. Long Shadow of Little Rock. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1997.

Beals, Melba Pattillo. Warriors Don’t Cry: A Searing Memoir of the Battle to Integrate Little Rock’s Central High. Little Rock: Washington Square Press, 1994.

Bowman, Michael Hugh. “In the Eye of the Beholder: The Little Rock Central Crisis as a Television Event.” PhD diss., Arkansas State University, 2008.

Brüchmann, Rebecca. Massive Resistance and Southern Womanhood: White Women, Class, and Segregation. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2021.

Central High Desegregation Crisis Video Clips. 1957–1959. Video from Home Movie Collection, BC.AV.09.23, Butler Center for Arkansas Studies, Bobby L. Roberts Library of Arkansas History & Art, Central Arkansas Library System: Central High Video Clips (accessed October 29, 2019).

Choi, Connie H. “’A Matter of Building Bridges’: Photography and African American Education, 1957–1972.” PhD diss., Columbia University, 2019.

Collins, Cathy J. “Forgetting and Remembering: The Desegregation of Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas: Race, Community Struggle, and Collective Memory.” PhD diss., Fielding Graduate Institute, 2004.

Collins, Janelle. “Easing a Country’s Conscience: Little Rock’s Central High School in Film.” Southern Quarterly 46 (Fall 2008): 78–90.

“Confronting the Crisis: The Legacy of Little Rock Central High School.” Digital collection. University of Arkansas at Little Rock Center for Arkansas History and Culture. (accessed September 19, 2018).

Cope, Graeme. “‘Dedicated People’: Little Rock Central High School’s Teachers during the Integration Crisis of 1957–1958.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 70 (Spring 2011): 16–44.

———. “‘Everybody Says All Those People… Were from out of Town, But They Weren’t’: A Note on Crowds during the Little Rock Crisis.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 67 (Autumn 2008): 245–267.

———. “‘Honest White People of the Middle and Lower Classes’? A Profile of the Capital Citizens’ Council during the Little Rock Crisis of 1957.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 61 (Spring 2002): 37–58.

———. “‘A Thorn in the Side’? The Mothers’ League of Central High School and the Little Rock Desegregation Crisis of 1957.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 57 (Summer 1998): 160–190.

Corrigan, Lisa M. “The (Re)segregation Crisis Continues: Little Rock Central High at Sixty.” Southern Communication Journal 83.2 (2018): 65–74.

Devlin, Erin Krutko. “‘Justice Is a Perpetual Struggle’: The Public Memory of the Little Rock School Desegregation Crisis.” PhD diss., College of William and Mary, 2011.

———. Remember Little Rock. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2017.

Eisenhower, David, and Alex Eisenhower. “A Civil Legacy: A Judiciary History of the Central High School Crisis.” FRANK, Fall/Winter 2007, 35–45.

Ellis, Kara D. “Assuming Responsibility: The Little Rock Branch of the American Association of University Women and the Little Rock School Desegregation Crisis.” MA thesis, University of Little Rock, 2009.

“Fifty Years Later.” Special issue, Arkansas Times. September 20, 2007.

Fisher, Shawn A. “The Battle of Little Rock.” PhD diss., University of Memphis, 2013.

Freyer, Tony. The Little Rock Crisis: A Constitutional Interpretation. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1948.

———. Little Rock on Trial: Cooper v. Aaron and School Desegregation. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2007.

Godfrey, Phoebe. “Bayonets, Brainwashing, and Bathrooms: The Discourse of Race, Gender, and Sexuality in the Desegregation of Little Rock’s Central High.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 62 (Spring 2003): 42–67.

Harper, Misti. “And They Entered as Ladies: When Race, Class and Black Femininity Clashed at Central High School.” PhD diss., University of Arkansas, 2017.

Jacoway, Elizabeth. Turn Away Thy Son: Little Rock, the Crisis That Shocked the Nation. New York: Free Press, 2007.

Jacoway, Elizabeth, and C. Fred Williams, eds. Understanding the Little Rock Crisis: An Exercise in Remembrance and Reconciliation. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1999.

Katagiri, Yasuhiro. Black Freedom, White Resistance, and Red Menace: Civil Rights and Anticommunism in the Jim Crow South. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2014.

Kirk, John A. Beyond Little Rock: The Origins and Legacies of the Central High Crisis. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2007.

———. Redefining the Color Line: Black Activism in Little Rock, Arkansas, 1940–1970. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2002.

Kirk, John A., ed. An Epitaph for Little Rock: A Fiftieth Anniversary Retrospective on the Central High Crisis. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2008.

LaNier, Carlotta Walls, and Lisa Frazier Page. A Mighty Long Way: My Journey to Justice at Little Rock Central High School. New York: One World/Ballantine, 2009.

Lewis, Catherine M., and J. Richard Lewis, eds. Race, Politics, and Memory: A Documentary History of the Little Rock School Crisis. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas, 2007.

“The Little Rock Crisis: A Fiftieth Anniversary Retrospective.” Special issue, Arkansas Historical Quarterly 66 (Summer 2007).

Margolick, David. Elizabeth and Hazel: Two Women of Little Rock. New Haven, NJ: Yale University Press, 2011.

Nichols, David. A Matter of Justice: Eisenhower and the Beginning of the Civil Rights Revolution. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2007.

Ogden, Dunbar H. My Father Said Yes: A White Pastor in Little Rock School Integration. Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University Press, 2008.

Perry, Ravi K., and D. LaRouth Perry. The Little Rock Crisis: What Desegregation Politics Says about Us. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015.

Pierce, Michael. “Historians of the Central High Crisis and Little Rock’s Working-Class Whites: A Review Essay.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 70 (Winter 2011): 462–483.

———. “Odell Smith, Teamsters Local 878, and Civil Rights Unionism in Little Rock, 1943–1965.” Journal of Southern History 84 (November 2018): 925–958.

Reed, Roy. Faubus: The Life and Times of an American Prodigal. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1997.

“The Road from Hell Is Paved with Little Rocks.” Digital collection. University of Arkansas at Little Rock Center for Arkansas History and Culture. (accessed September 19, 2018).

Roberts, Terrence. Lessons from Little Rock. Little Rock: Butler Center Books, 2009.

Robinson, Brandon Earl. “The Band at Little Rock Central High School Before, During, and After Integration in 1957–1958.” PhD diss., University of Mississippi, 2014.

Roy, Beth. Bitters in the Honey: Tales of Hope and Disappointment across Divides of Race and Time. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1999.

“Special Issue: 40 th Anniversary of the Little Rock School Crisis.” Special issue, Arkansas Historical Quarterly 56 (Autumn 1997).

West, Michael O. “Little Rock as America: Hoyt Fuller, Europe, and the Little Rock Racial Crisis of 1957.” Journal of Southern History 78 (November 2012): 913–942.

National Park Service
Central High School National Historic Site

Southern History Series: The Integration of Central High School

The following excerpt on the integration of Central High School in Little Rock comes from Mary L. Dudziak’s book Cold War Civil Rights: Race and the Image of American Democracy:

“Eisenhower’s decision to act was not based on support for desegregation. He was not a supporter of court-ordered desegregation or of the Brown decision itself. Eisenhower communicated his feelings about the desegregation cases to Chief Justice Earl Warren while the cases were pending. He invited Warren to a dinner at the White House. Following the meal, Warren later wrote, Eisenhower took him by the arm, and “as we walked along, speaking of the Southern states in the segregation cases, he said, ‘These are not bad people. All they are concerned about is to see that their sweet little girls are not required to sit alongside some big overgrown Negroes.'” Justice Warren felt that President Eisenhower’s lack of support for Brown contributed to the resistance to the decision. He believed that “much of our racial strife could have been avoided” if the president had stood up for the principle of equality. The nation seemed to agree with Justice Warren’s assessment. According to a 1955 Gallup Poll, one of the main criticisms of Eisenhower’s leadership was that he “encourages segregation.” When Brown was decided, Eisenhower was asked whether he had “any advice to give the South as to just how to react to the recent Supreme Court decision banning segregation.” The president responded, “Not in the slightest.” He thought that South Carolina Governor James Byrnes “made a very fine statement when he said let us be calm, and let us be reasonable, and let us look this thing in the face.” As for his own role, Eisenhower said, “The Supreme Court has spoken, and I am sworn to uphold the Constitutional process in this country. And I am trying – will obey it.”

Not withstanding his lack of enthusiasm for Brown, Eisenhower became deeply involved in managing the Little Rock crisis. He was concerned, in part, with the threat the crisis posed for the rule of law. As Eisenhower described it in his memoirs, “[t]hat situation, if a successful defiance of federal court orders continued, could lead to a breakdown of law and order in a widening area.” Eisenhower was angry with Governor Faubus, who he felt had defied him. But the breakdown of law and order and the management of an insubordinate governor were not all that was at stake. In addition, Eisenhower wrote, “around the world it could continue to feed the mill of Soviet propagandaists who by word and picture were telling the world of the ‘racial terror’ in the United States.” It was a mix of factors, domestic and international, that led to Eisenhower’s extraordinary action in Little Rock.

The president’s top aides emphasized the international impact of the Little Rock crisis. The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Henry Cabot Lodge, wrote President Eisenhower that:

“Here at the United Nations I can clearly see the harm that the riots in Little Rock are doing to our foreign relations. More than two-thirds of the world is non-white and the reactions of the representatives of these people is easy to see. I suspect that we lost several votes on the Chinese communist item because of Little Rock.” …

According to the draft language, Eisenhower would “beg the people of Arkansas to erase the blot upon the fair name and high honor of our nation.” This was a time when the nation “faces the gravest of peril” from enemies abroad, and “patriotism cannot be reconciled with conduct which injures grievously our nation.” …

Little Rock, however, was a crisis of such magnitude for worldwide perceptions of race and American democracy that it would become the reference point for the future. Later presidents, facing crises of their own, would try their best to avoid “another Little Rock.”

President Dwight Eisenhower didn’t support the Brown decision or the integration of Central High School in Little Rock in 1957. He sent in the the 101st Airborne Division to integrate Central High School and signed the Civil Rights Act of 1957 though because he was a Cold Warrior. The same was true of President John F. Kennedy. The “leader of the free world” had a reputation in the United Nations to preserve.

The American Empire was in a global struggle with the Soviet Union at the time over the hearts and minds of the Third World. It is how we got embroiled in the Vietnam War. Southern segregation was an albatross for the U.S. foreign policy establishment. The bad publicity was used in anti-American propaganda by the Soviets to promote communism over the gospel of liberalism and free-market capitalism.

That’s the reason why the Jim Crow South had to go. It was because of our post-World War II commitment to imperialism and the defense of free-market capitalism. The mainstream media was so concentrated at the time that it had the power to create bad optics to drive its political agenda.

In 2014, I was in Little Rock with some friends and we decided to check out Central High School. After 57 years of integration, the surrounding neighborhood had become a violent, blighted ghetto:

The Brown decision which transformed our education system was based on the latest cutting edge research in mid-20th century sociology which had assured our political class that racial gaps were temporary and were caused by discrimination and segregation and there were no biological racial differences in IQ that wishful thinking by progressive policymakers couldn’t solve:

Fifty years after President Eisenhower used the 101st Airborne Division to integrate Central High School in Little Rock in 1957, two filmmakers went back to check out all the “progress” that has unfolded there since this watershed victory by the Civil Rights Movement.

Black students are now the majority at Central High School and their parents have taken over the surrounding neighborhood. The student body now has a black president. Civil rights martyr Minnijean Brown, one of the Little Rock Nine, now teaches a high school course about the evils of “white privilege” and “institutional racism.” She has a monument dedicated to her memory at the Arkansas State Capitol. President Bill Clinton has even designated Central High School a National Historic Site.

MLK’s dream came true in Little Rock. After a billion dollars was spent by the federal government over half a century fostering racial equality in this high school, what was the result?

Central High School is still one of the best public high schools in Arkansas on account of its lavish funding, which attracts a rich, highly intelligent and capable White minority, who are shielded from the black majority by enrollment in AP courses. Meanwhile, the majority of black students are several grade levels behind their White peers. In spite of their presence inside the same integrated high school, their instruction by a corps of benevolent anti-racist pedagogues, the sympathy of the world and the full force and resources of the federal government behind them, the black students exist in a parallel universe of academic failure and broken homes, where everyone seems to know someone who has been shot to death.

The racial gap in academic achievement in Little Rock remains impregnable. It is literally less of a challenge to send a probe to explore the methane seas of Titan. Blacks have taken over the surrounding neighborhood, which used to be the pride of Little Rock, and have transformed it into a desolate wasteland populated by crackheads milling about the ruins of abandoned businesses tagged with graffiti, vacant lots overgrown with weeds which are reverting to the wilderness and blighted houses with boarded up windows and garbage strewn about their yards. Gang warfare has turned the surrounding area into a war zone, which is silently protested by a makeshift memorial to black-on-black violent crime.

Central High School is a place where the children of White investment bankers play on the golf team and the football stadium is surrounded by razor wire to keep the black residents of the surrounding neighborhood at bay. Who could watch this documentary and check out the surrounding neighborhood and not come away impressed with this glorious triumph of the Civil Rights Movement?

African American Cultural Heritage : Civil Rights Sites Commemorating the March on Washington

Historic places that represent the fight for equality in America are essential to telling the full story of this important chapter of our nation's history. These sites preserve the memory of the struggle for civil rights.

Today, Central High School is open for tours that dive deep into the building’s civil rights history. It is also the only operating high school to become a National Historic Landmark, meaning that its story and impact on America’s historic fabric continues to evolve. The student body is currently 71 percent minority (majority black), significantly higher than Arkansas’ average of 39 percent.

photo by: Wikimedia Commons/Sgerbic/CC BY-SA 4.0

This statue, commemorating the bravery of the Little Rock Nine, was unveiled in 2005.

In honor of the Little Rock Nine, a sculpture created by chief editorial cartoonist for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette John Deering was unveiled on August 30, 2005. The statues were sculpted by Deering, his wife Kathy Deering, and his studio partner Steve Scallion over seven years. Called “Testament: The Little Rock Nine Monument,” the memorial is intended to invite viewers to become “virtual witnesses, imagining themselves amid the blur of protestors, reporters, and troops who surrounding the Little Rock Nine," according to a brochure from the office of Arkansas’ Secretary of State. The memorial is located on 3rd Street next to the Arkansas State Capitol.

The civil rights history of Little Rock, Arkansas, also extends to the Daisy Bates House, which belonged to Daisy and L.C. Bates, activists who advocated for the Little Rock Nine. L.C. and Daisy owned and reported for African American newspaper the Arkansas State Press. Along with the NAACP, Daisy challenged the Little Rock School Board to adhere to Brown v. Board in court and even helped select the Little Rock Nine for the school’s integration. The Daisy Bates Home quickly became a center of organizing as well as a gathering place for the students, from their initial denial to their ultimate triumph in successfully attending the school.

The home endured the marks of racism, having been vandalized while the Bates were living there. “Shots were fired through its windows, and crosses were burned in the yard on two occasions,” according to Arkansas’ Civil Rights Trail website. “After the school board closed its high school in 1958-59 to avoid integration, the Bates home was the target of an incendiary bomb.” The historic home is now available for tours and is listed on the National Register.

photo by: Wikimedia Commons/Daisy Bates House

The Daisy Bates House became a center of organizing for the nine African American students who would eventually attend Central High School.

Central High School, Dunbar High School, the “Testament” statue, the Daisy Bates Home, and other places related to African American history can be found on the Arkansas Civil Rights History mobile app, an audio/visual walking tour that covers 36 historic Little Rock landmarks. The app touches on major historic landmarks, like Central High School, as well as other significant places that may not have been as formally recognized by the historical record.

In addition, Arkansas Congressman French Hill introduced a bill in May 2017 to expand the boundaries of the Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site and include seven additional properties by the high school. The bill, passed into law in January 2018, intends to “mark, interpret, improve, restore, and provide technical assistance for the preservation and interpretation of their properties.”

The City of Little Rock also received a National Park Service grant of almost $500,000 to restore the Art Deco facade of Central High School in order to “prevent water damage to the exterior of the structure,” according to a March 2018 story from the Arkansas Times.

While it may have been tempting to cover up the state’s reaction to integration and the Brown v. Board decision, individuals and groups in Arkansas instead chose to broaden and contextualize its place in the Civil Rights Movement. By focusing on African Americans’ contributions to the city, as well as the difficult history that surrounds the significant sites, Little Rock is helping us learn from our past to impact our future.

Watch the video: Little Rock Central High School Integration 60th Anniversary Preview