The events surrounding the controversial and moving spectacle of the “Little Rock Nine” still reverberates in the minds of many with its stark imagery and political implications. The barring of nine Black African-American students who were prevented from entering Arkansas’ Little Rock Central High School on September 4, 1957, became known historically as the “Little Rock Crisis,” with then-Governor Orval Faubus calling in the National Guard to stop the students at the door. On this date in 1957, the nine students would begin integration of Little Rock Central along with federal and nearby Army troops.
Although segregated schools were declared unconstitutional after the Brown v. Board of Education ruling in 1954, Arkansas officials neglected to heed the ruling after the NAACP registered nine students to attend a high school for the fall of 1957. Ernest Green, Elizabeth Eckford, Jefferson Thomas, Terrence Roberts, Carlotta LaNier, Minnijean Brown, Gloria Ray Kalmark, Thelma Mothershed, and Melba Pattillo Beals were nicknamed the “Little Rock Nine.”
Segregationists who did not want the Black students in their schools promised protests, prompting Governor Faubus to deploy the Guard. The images of the soldiers blocking the frightened teens from entering the school ignited a firestorm of debate and controversy nationwide.
Trudging through the hostile environment, the “Nine” were cursed at and spat upon during the harrowing ordeal. On September 9, the Little Rock School district condemned Governor Faubus’ actions and even President Dwight Eisenhower would involve himself and warned that the Supreme Court’s decision of desegregated schools should not be ignored.
In a noble act, Little Rock Mayor Woodrow Mann requested that President Eisenhower send troops to protect and escort the students inside safely. On September 24, President Eisenhower sent federal troops to Little Rock and took over the Arkansas National Guard, effectively stripping Governor Faubus of his power.
The transition wasn’t without struggle as the “Nine” suffered racial and physical abuse for the entire school year from White students. Melba Pattillo even said that a student flung acid into her eyes and there were other atrocious acts as well.
Governor Faubus’ actions were indicative of many Southern conservative Democrats who resisted the tides of change with the advent of African Americans integrating in to a desegregated world. Xenophobic and racist treatment continued to thrive in the deep South, but the “Nine” would eventually find some closure after President Bill Clinton (pictured right) presented the group with Congressional Medals of Honor in 1999.
Although the horrific treatment of the students marked how sick and twisted racist minds worked during the 1950s, the moment helped to motivate those within the Civil Rights Movement to fight even harder to combat similar injustices across the country. To make their struggle even more noteworthy, each of the “Nine” graduated from Little Rock Central and all went on to have amazing careers spanning the fields of journalism, accounting, social work and psychology.
Watch the “Little Rock Nine’s story here:
Imagine the hell the “Nine” endured for just a moment. The fact that each of them found a way through the madness and excelled far beyond every low expectation that their doubters had about them speaks volumes to the resiliency of the human spirit. The “Nine” and their fight for equality is a moment of our rich history that should not be forgotten or discounted.