In September 1957, nine African American high school students set off to be the first African American students to desegregate the all white Central High School. The six agirls and the three boys were selected by their brightness and capability of ignoring threats of the white students at Central High. This was all part of the Little Rock school board’s plan to desegregate the city schools gradually, by starting with a small group of kids at a single high school. However, the plan turned out to be a lot more complex when Governor Orval Faubus decided not to let the nine enter the school.
Orval Faubus had never been enthusiastic about segregation, but he was running for reelection and wanted to get the vote of the extreme segregationists. Faubus went on television the night before school opened, and declared publicly that it would “not be possible to restore or maintain order….if forcible integration is carried out tomorrow.” The following day, two hundred National Guardsmen surrounded Central High and blocked the nine African American students from entering. Faubus had now openly defied court orders, which would bring the federal government into action.
“If…he hoped to outbluff the former Allied supreme commander in World War II by barking commands at state reserve units, the governor was out of his depth,” said Robert Weisbrot in Freedom Bound: A History of America’s Civil Rights Movement. President Dwight D. Eisenhower the former supreme commander wasn’t going to let Faubus defy the federal government. Eisenhower met with Faubus to make sure that Faubus would do what the federal government ordered. After their meeting, Faubus made no attempt to fix anything which caused Eisenhower to federalize the National Guard and to send the 101st Airborne Division to protect the nine African American students. The soldiers escorted the African American students into Central High and to all their classes.
The soldiers were able to stop protests outside of Central High, but inside the school, racism was still present. [The students] were subjects of unspeakable hatred. White students yelled insults in the halls and during class. They beat up the black students, particularly the boys. They walked on the heels of the black until they bled. They destroyed the black student’s lockers and threw flaming paper wads at them in the bathrooms. They threw lighted sticks of dynamite at Melba Pattillo Beals, stabbed her, and sprayed acid in her eyes. The acid was so strong that had her 101st guard not splashed water on her face immediately, she would have been blind for the rest of her life. White students protested the nine being in school, some by leaving.
There was no way for the nine students to escape racism even if the National Guard was there. White students taunted the African American students everyday, which eventually led Minnijean Brown, one of the nine, to talk back to one of the white students. She was given a warning and when another student provoked her in a lunch line, she couldn’t take it and poured her chili over his head. That was her last day at Central High. The eight remaining African...