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A Crisis in Little Rock Central High School

In May, 1954 the Supreme Court ruled that segregation in public schools was unconstitutional.

In 1957, Little Rock was a moderate city in a moderate state. It seemed far removed from the strife taking place in other southern states. Throughout, Arkansas desegregation was happening on bus systems and at the University level without much controversy.

Little Rock, Arkansas had a plan to desegregate slowly by enrolling 9 black high school students into Central High School in September 1957.

Throughout the summer there were protests about the upcoming plan.

Governor Orval Faubus, trying to appeal to the segregationists for votes made the decision to halt integration by sending the National Guard in to prevent the nine students from entering Central High.

On September 4, 1957, 15 year old Elizabeth Eckford arrived alone to begin her first day at Central High School. She was soon surrounded by an angry mob who spit upon her and taunted her with insults.

Being denied entrance into the school, Elizabeth walked to the closest bus stop.

September 4, 1957

"As I stepped out into the street, the people who had been across the street started surging forward behind me. So, I headed in the opposite direction to where there was another bus stop. Safety to me meant getting to that bus stop. It seemed like I sat there for a long time before the bus came. In the meantime, people were screaming behind me what I would have described as a crowd before, to my ears sounded like a mob."

Today

"I turned back to the guards but their faces told me I wouldn't get any help from them. Then I looked down the block and saw a bench at the bus stop. I thought, If I can only get there I will be safe.' I don't know why the bench seemed a safe place to me, but I started walking toward it. I tried to close my mind to what they were shouting, and kept saying to myself, If I can only make it to the bench I will be safe.

When I finally got there, I don't think I could have gone another step. I sat down and the mob crowded up and began

shouting all over again. Someone hollered, 'Drag her over to this tree! Let's take care of that nigger.' Just then a white man sat down beside me, put his arm around me and patted my shoulder. He raised my chin and said, 'Don't let them see you cry."

Eventually, Grace Lorch, an advocate for integration, stepped forward and helped guide Elizabeth onto a city bus to safety.

The bus stop today

President Eisenhower summoned Orval Faubus to a meeting for a discussion about the situation. Eventually, the courts ordered for him to remove the National Guard.

September 23, 1957

A crowd of over 1000 protesters descended on Central High when the Little Rock Nine attempted to enter the school again. The crowd turned on members of the black press. Although the students got inside, their stay was not long and they were shuttled for their own safety.

September 24, 1957

With the rioting making worldwide news, President Eisenhower sent in the 101st Airborne to enforce the law and escort the students into the school for their first official day of classes.

And thus began a school year like no other.....

"My first day inside Central High was very smooth, smoother than I expected. Outside was the main cause. If it wasn't for the people outside, we would have finished the day. But I don't intend to quit. We'll try again. It's still my school, and I'm entitled to it." -Ernest Green

Throughout the year each of the Little Rock Nine was assigned a personal soldier to protect them. It did not mean the end of harassment.

"I just can't take everything they throw at me without fighting back. I don't think people realize what goes on at Central. You just wouldn't believe it. They throw rocks, they spill ink on your clothes, they call you 'nigger,' they just keep bothering you every five minutes. The white students hate me. Why do they hate me so much?" -Minnijean Brown

By the end of the year, Ernest Green became the first to graduate from Central High. To further halt integration, Governer Orval Faubus closed down all public high schools in Little Rock the following year.

Central High School Today

Physically, little has changed in the school since 1957.

Today the school is made up of approximately 54% black students and 43% white students.

The school is a national historic site with a National Parks Visitor Center close by. Tours are given by reservation.

On the grounds of the Arkansas State Capitol Building, a memorial to the Little Rock Nine stands.

Check out my tour of the site I did via Periscope below

For your further interest, below are some links to excellent resources.

And finally, please feel free to check out my website.

Created By
Mike Fowler
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