The Little Rock Nine
Living in the 21st Century, it is difficult to imagine a time in the history of the United States that black students could not attend the same public schools that white students attended. In his famous speech, “I Have a Dream,” Dr. Martin Luther King said, “I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, one day, right there in Alabama, little black boys and little black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.” Desegregation, in the southern states, especially Arkansas, did not come without a price to Dr. King as well as nine black students that became known as “The Little Rock Nine.” Who would have thought that Negro students trying to go to a public school would cause such a crisis. The United States Supreme Court ruled in May 1954 that racial segregation in the schools was unconstitutional (Dortch 2). The School Board adopted a plan of gradual integration, in May 1955. This plan stated that high school grades would be integrated. However, in the same year Arkansas’ Governor, Orval Faubus forbade the integration of Central High School (2).
The nine Negro students of the Little Rock Nine were: Jean Brown Trickey, Carlotta Walls LaNier, Melba Patillo Beals, Terrence Roberts, Gloria Ray Karlmark, Thelma Mothershed Wair, Ernest Green, Elizabeth Eckford and Jefferson Thomas (The Christian Science Monitor 5). These students marched up the steps of Little Rock Central High School, facing the angry mobs that were harassing them. Little Rock Central High School is now the national emblem of the violent struggle of school desegregation. Three years after the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision, a federal court ordered Little Rock to comply. On September 4, 1957, Governor Orval Faubus defied the court, calling in the national guard to prevent nine African American students—“The Little Rock Nine” from entering the building. Ten days later in a meeting with President Eisenhower, Faubus agreed to use the National Guard to protect the African American teenagers, but on returning to Little Rock, he dismissed the troops, leaving the African American students exposed to an angry white mob. Within hours, the jeering, brick throwing mob had beaten several reporters and smashed many of the schools windows and doors. By noon, local police were forced to evacuate the nine students (We Shall Overcome 1).
The third attempt for the Negro students to enter Central High was made on September 25. As the students approached the building, the crowd chanted, “Two, four, six, eight...We ain’t gonna integrate!” (The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture 1). Due to bullying and harassment, guards were assigned to escort the nine to class. However, the harassment continued in places where the guards could not go, such as locker rooms and restrooms. The editor of The Arkansas Gazette described the situation as a “reign of terror.”
Elizabeth Eckford was the only one out of the nine who did not have a phone. Therefore, she never received the message to meet the others a few blocks from the school, so they would not be alone. Facing the angry mob all alone, Elizabeth attempted to enter at the front of the school, but the guardsmen directed her back out to the streets. “I tried to see a friendly face somewhere in the mob- someone who maybe would help. I looked into the face of an old woman and it seemed a kind face, but when I looked at her again, she spat on me” (1). Elizabeth Eckford eventually walked alone, surrounded by the angry mob, to a bench to wait for a bus. Despite the name calling and threats there was a friendly face in the crowd. A white man sat down beside her, put his arm around her, and told her, “Don’t let them see you cry” (Lennon).
Jefferson Thomas remembers almost everything about that day, even the...
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