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All Eyes on Little Rock | The Nation

All Eyes on Little Rock

Ninety-two years after Appomattox, blacks throughout the South were still being told to be patient when it came to their civil rights. But in September 1957, the Central High Nine decided their time had come, and the nine African-American teenagers from Little Rock, Arkansas, declared their intentions to enroll in an all-white high school. By attempting to enter a school door that had supposedly been opened by the US Supreme Court three years before, they nearly reignited the Civil War. Outside the school on the first day of classes, a mob of more than 1,000 arrived at the school to taunt the nine teenag- ers. Overnight, Governor Orval E. Faubus (ironically, the son of a socialist; his father gave him the middle name Eugene in honor of Eugene V. Debs) became an international figure when he called out the National Guard on the pretext that they were needed to protect the students. Instead, they prevented the nine from enrolling. When President Eisenhower later called in the US Army to disperse the protesters and to make sure the students were permitted to enroll, Faubus disdainfully called it "the military occupation of Arkansas."

Although the students were able to attend classes by the end of the month, the battle was far from over. In 1958, Faubus closed the schools rather than accept court-ordered integration. Although they were forcibly reopened in 1959, Little Rock schools wouldn't be fully integrated until 1972.

But while the adults battled each other in the courts and in the streets, inside Central High a fascinating thing happened. William Green, one of the original nine, recalled in 1962 that the white students were for the most part accepting. "The type of thing that was going on outside, people beaten, cursed, the mob hysterics and all of this going on outside...we inside the school didn't realize the problems that were occurring, and continually students were befriending us. I was amazed at this kind of attitude being shown toward the Negroes."

When Green fell behind in his physics class, several white students volunteered to lend him their notes -- a near revolu- tionary act at a time when citizens were brought up on sedi- tion charges for similar humanitarian gestures. That's not to say there weren't problems for the nine. When Minnijean Brown grew tired of the taunts and dumped a bowl of chili over the head of her chief antagonist, Brown was the one suspended. That wasn't the only incident either, but over time integration worked, in no small part because enough students -- white and black -- were determined that it would.

   

In This Pack

Desegregation, New Phase
The Nation discusses the impact that Governor Faubus's decisions regarding school integration have had on the South, the civil rights movement and on the state and national political scene. The article suggests that the end result may not be what the Governor had intended (September 28, 1957).

This Is No Tragedy
An editorial discusses President Eisenhower's decision to send federal troops to Little Rock and suggests that it was a necessary move (October 5, 1957).

Farewell to Uncle Tom
James N. Rhea | An African-American journalist travels through the South and reports that the blacks he meets are determined to overcome white resistance to the civil rights movement. If this is a surprise to many whites, he suggests it might be because most newspapers and magazines don't bother to interview blacks on the civil rights question (November 2, 1957).

Leaderless Decency
Harry Golden | The author says that the South is being torn asunder unnecessarily in good part because of the silence of the majority of Southerners who do not oppose inte- gration. One key to turning the situation around is the need for courageous leadership to emerge (August 30, 1958).

The Courage of the Court
The editorial discusses the efforts of conservatives in Congress to weaken the power of the courts in the wake of several major rulings favoring desegregation (October 11, 1958).

The Brave Ones
Dan Wakefield | In a firsthand report from Little Rock, the author discusses Gover- nor Faubus's decision-making process and in contrast introduces the reader to several people who have stood up to the Governor in the wake of threats and abuse (October 11, 1958).

The Education of Earl Warren
Bradford Smith | This article looks at how the Chief Justice's progressive stance on the Supreme Court is in stark contrast with his notorious role in the forced evacuation of Japanese-Americans from their homes in California during World War II (October 11, 1958).

Little Rock and Johannesburg
Anthony Sampson | The author finds many similarities (and some surprising differences) between the lives of blacks living in segregated Little Rock and those suffering under apartheid in South Africa (January 10, 1959).

Massive Collapse
The Nation reports on recent judicial rulings that have put the clamps on the so-called "massive resistance" to integration efforts throughout the South. The article suggests that because of the courts' orders, such state-sponsored resistance may be forced to desist (January 31, 1959).

 

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