The Little Rock Integration Crisis

The Little Rock Integration Crisis The Little Rock Integration Crisis Nearly a century after the conclusion of the civil war, our nation was still not united. However, no longer was tension between the north and south threatening the welfare of our country, but instead the segregation of African-Americans. A primary goal in the civil war was abolishing slavery and although that was accomplished, many believed that blacks were hardly better off. However, a sense that change was necessary had swept across the United States. The desegregation movement was just beginning and the effects of the Little Rock Integration Crisis was one of the earliest stepping stones leading towards a united nation; this event helped set new standards of integration, while setting an example to the rest of the world that old forms of segregation would no longer be accepted. In the early 1950’s, racial segregation was widely accepted across the nation.

It was believed that this would create a better learning atmosphere for white students. Although all school districts across cities and states were supposed to be equal, facilities, teachers, and school conditions were far superior in white schools than black schools. This system was feebly challenged until 1951. In Topeka, Kansas, Oliver Brown attempted to enroll his third-grade daughter to an all white school. Oliver’s daughter had to walk more than a mile to her all black school, while the white school was merely seven blocks from their home. Although denied enrollment, Brown appealed all the way to the Supreme Court.

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In the precedent-setting trial of Brown vs. the Board of Education, Chief Justice Earl Warren declared that the Supreme Court had ruled in favor of Oliver Brown – no longer would segregation be permitted. Brown vs. the Board of Education was the catalyst to the Little Rock Integration Crisis. After the decision, the Little Rock school board accepted the fact that it had to integrate black and white children in their schools. Reluctantly, the Little Rock school board developed an integration plan, although it took more than three years to create. Nonetheless, by 1957 the integration plan was finished.

The plan called for three phases. The primary phase would take place in the 1957-1958 school year. During this school year, the senior high schools, grades 10-12, would be integrated. The following school year the junior high schools would be integrated. After the two previous schools were successfully integrated, the elementary schools would be integrated. As the 1957-1958 school year grew near, the board began to plan for the senior high school integration.

It was decided that the Horace Mann school, better known as the all black school, would be kept intact. Some students from the Horace Mann school would be selected to attend the local white high school, called Central High. Of the several black students that volunteered to attend Central High, a selection process selected the seventeen students they felt would fit the best. These students were selected mostly on their exceptional grades; however, the students were also engaged in many extracurricular activities. As the new school year approached, the seventeen students dwindled down to nine, as many feared they would not be able to handle the intense pressures of the all white school.

The tension grew in Little Rock and the students were forced to face much adversity before the school year even began. A number of whites went to court to try to put a court ordered injunction on the integration, but they were all denied. Many members of the black community disapproved of the integration as well, claiming that the students did not deserve to be among the higher class white students and that they would be out of place. The Little Rock school board did as much as they could to limit the blacks as well. Knowing they could not prevent integration, the school board simply laid several restrictions on the new black students, banning them from extracurricular activities and athletics. The school board cited that this was because they were transfer students; however, the truth was quite evident that this was not truly the reason. Regardless, these nine, courageous students prepared to attend their first day at Central High on September 3, 1957.

On September 2, 1957, the night before the nine black students were supposed to enter Central High, National Guardsmen surrounded the school. In a televised speech, Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus rationalized that many white supremacists from all over the state were descending on Little Rock. The governor had called the national guardsmen because he feared that the situation would turn into a bloodbath. The state governor proceeded to announce that Central High would be off-limits to black students for the time being. He also proclaimed that if black students attempted to enter Central High, “blood would run in the street.” The black students did not attend the first day of school. Early on September 4, the following day, Daisy Bates of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) organized a meeting with the nine black students. They planned an attempt to enter school that day by walking in together.

However, only eight of the nine students were present at the meeting because Elizabeth Eckford did not have a phone and was unable to be notified. The astoundingly brave Eckford attempted to enter school that day through the front entrance. As the National Guard looked on, an angry mob approached her and threatened to beat her. Elizabeth mistakenly believed that the National Guard would help and found herself in an ominous position. Fortunately, two whites stepped forward to aid her, and proceeded to lead her to the bus stop which she was able to reach without injury.

The other eight students were also denied admission by the National Guard as ordered by Governor Faubus. The students remained away from Central High for several days, until September 20, when judge Ronald Davies granted NAACP lawyers Thurgood Marshall and Wiley Branton an injunction that prevented Governor Faubus from using the National Guard to prevent the nine students from entering Central High. Faubus agreed to accept the injunction; however, he pleaded with the “Little Rock Nine” to remain away from Central High until there was no longer threats of violence. On Monday, September 23, the nine black students set off for Central High School. A mob of white supremacists had gathered in hopes to prevent the event.

They eventually became so enraged that small riots began in front of the school. Many reporters were beaten who had come to cover the event. In the midst of the confusion, the students crept in through the side entrance. When the mob heard the news that the students had managed to enter the school, they went crazy. Meanwhile, things were not much better inside the school.

The black students were tortured by white students, who spat on them, tripped them, and yelled insults. By 11:30, the police felt they could no longer control the violence. The “Little Rock Nine” were rushed out of the school by the rear entrance to avoid further violence. The situation was getting out of control and hopes began to fade in the hearts of the courageous nine students seeking an equal education. Fortunately, they refused to give up on their goals and they received well-deserved and needed remedy when Preident Eisenhower sent the 101st Air Division of the United States Guard to ensure that the black students could complete a full day of school.

The 101st Air Division patrolled the school, while each student also received a personal guard to escort him or herself to classes. Still, the students were subjects of unspeakable hatred. White students tormented the black students: they beat them up, destroyed their lockers, walked on their heels, and threw flaming paper wads at the black students in the bathroom. They threw lighted sticks of dynamite at Melba Pattillo, stabbed her, and sprayed acid in her eyes. Gradually, the U.S. Guard ceased to accompany the students, forcing them to fend for themselves. Christmas neared which meant a much-deserved vacation for the “Little Rock Nine.” Unfortunately, Christmas did not arrive soon enough for Minnijean Brown, who dumped her lunch tray over two white boys who had taunted her on December 17.

Despite the fact that the boys defended Minnijean, explaining that the act of aggression was well-warranted, Minnijean was suspended for six days. She was reinstated later in January, as she gave consent that she would no longer physically or verbally retaliate to any form of harassment, but instead allow the school to provide punishment. She was not able to keep to her agreement, when in early February she was suspended for calling a girl who was provoking her “white trash.” Many of the white students were jubilant about the expulsion, creating posters which read “One down .. eight to go!” However, it was not to be. The other eight students all completed the school year.

In May of 1958, in spite of the numerous protests, Ernest Green became the first black graduate of Central High School in Little Rock. He was the sole minority student in his class of 602 students. Segregationists in Arkansas were appalled that Ernest Green had actually graduated, and decided they would take any action to prevent any other black students from doing so. Once again, the Little Rock School Board pleaded for a court injunction on integration which they were initially granted. The injunction would not make it to the school year, as the Supreme Court overturned it, once again sending a message that integration was necessary. Governor Faubus was enraged by the Supreme Court decision and took it upon himself to prevent integration.

Faubus passed many segregation bills through the Legislative Branch of Arkansas, one which granted him the power to shut down any public school in Arkansas. He continued to temporarily shut down the four public high schools in Little Rock, stating If Daisy Bates [an NAACP leader] would find an honest job and go to work, and if the U.S. Supreme Court would keep its cotton-picking hands off the Little Rock School Board’s affairs, we could open the Little Rock [public] schools! The schools remained closed for the entire year. Faubus was once again denied by the politicians of Washington D.C. In the summer of 1959, the Supreme Court ruled that what Faubus had done was unconstitutional. In order to prevent Faubus from taking any further action to keep the schools closed, the school board opened school early, August 12, 1959.

Two students or the original nine remained in Central High, while three others of the original nine attended another nearby public high school. Jefferson Thomas and Carlotta Walls both graduated from Central High that spring. The crisis in Little Rock had a profound impact on a divided nation and the rest of the world. It provided indelible proof of the lengths to which some Southerners would go to prevent integration. Governor Faubus was a fine example of the unjustifiable behavior that segregationists felt was necessary. Faubus had been seeking re-election for his 3rd term of Arkansas governor and in order to persuade voters he felt that he should join the segregation movement. Rather than thinking as a human with his heart, Faubus elected to act as a politician and put an infamous label on his name. Nonetheless, the paramount heart of the nine black students overcame all obstacles.

These nine teenagers, Jean Brown Trickey, Carlotta Walls LaNier, Melba Patillo Beals, Terrence Roberts, Gloria Ray Karlmark, Thelma Mothershed Wair, Ernest Green, Elizabeth Eckford, and Jefferson Thomas never thought that they would be chosen to be a part of history. However, when they walked through the halls of Little Rock High School they changed our nation forever. Their unwavering courage opened up a new door for blacks and gave many whites a new perspective. Most importantly, the “Little Rock Nine” took the most important step in creating racial harmony in America. History.