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President Dwight D. Eisenhower is forced to take action when nine African-American students are prevented from entering Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. In a broadcast to the nation on September 24, 1957, the president explains his decision to order Federal troops to Little Rock to ensure that the students are allowed access to the school, as mandated by the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Brown v. Board of Education.
Little Rock Crisis, 1957
In 1954, the United States Supreme Court declared public school segregation unconstitutional in Brown v. Board of Education. One year later, the Court reiterated its ruling, calling on school districts throughout the United States to desegregate their public schools “with all deliberate speed.” While some school districts began developing strategies to resist public school desegregation, school officials at Little Rock, Arkansas stated that they would comply with the Supreme Court’s ruling.
School district officials created a system in which black students interested in attending white schools were put through a series of rigorous interviews to determine whether they were suited for admission. School officials interviewed approximately eighty black students for Central High School, the largest school in the city. Only nine were chosen–Melba Patillo Beals, Elizabeth Eckford, Ernest Green, Gloria Ray Karlmark, Carlotta Walls Lanier, Terrence Roberts, Jefferson Thomas, Minnijean Brown Trickey, and Thelma Mothershed Wair. They later became known around the world as the “Little Rock Nine.” Little Rock civil rights activist Daisy Lee Bates served as their spokesperson and organizer.
Although skeptical about integrating a formerly whites-only institution, the nine students arrived at Central High School on September 4, 1957, looking forward to a successful academic year. Instead, they were greeted by an angry mob of white students, parents, and citizens determined to stop integration. In addition to facing racial slurs and physical threats from the crowd, Arkansas Governor Orval M. Faubus had intervened, ordering the Arkansas National Guard to keep the nine African American students from entering the school. Faced with no other choice, the “Little Rock Nine” abandoned their attempt to attend classes that morning. Central High School soon became the center of a national debate about civil rights, racial discrimination and states’ rights.
On September 20, 1957, Federal Judge Ronald Davies ordered Governor Faubus to remove the National Guard from the Central High School’s entrance and to allow integration to take its course in Little Rock. Gov. Faubus withdrew the National Guard, but an angry crowd of more than 1,000 protesters surrounded the school on September 23, the next time the nine students attempted to begin classes. Although they had gained access through a side entrance, the police feared for their safety, and evacuated the students. President Dwight Eisenhower dispatched nearly 1,000 paratroopers and federalized 10,000 Arkansas National Guard troops to ensure that the school would be open to the nine students. On September 25, 1957, the “Little Rock Nine” returned to Central High School and were enrolled. Units of the United States Army remained at the school for the rest of the academic year to guarantee their safety.
The Crisis at Mansfield
The personal and political relationship between President Eisenhower and Governor Shivers demonstrates the calculated decisions both made during the crisis at Mansfield High School. Shivers’ support for Eisenhower in the 1952 and 1956 presidential elections ensured that an important relationship would develop between two unlikely allies. Eisenhower’s position in favor of states’ rights, along with favoring Texas’ claim to the tidelands, convinced Shivers to support a Republican over the Democratic candidate Adlai Stevenson. Eisenhower went on to carry Texas in both elections and shared his gratitude with Shivers through frequent letter exchanges, meetings, and golfing trips.
The integration showdown at Mansfield High School prompted Shivers to send in Texas Rangers to maintain peace and avoid the integration of African-American students in defiance of court orders. The Eisenhower administration steered clear of any response that would have upheld court orders on integration in Mansfield. Not only did Eisenhower view Shivers’ actions as consistent with the powers of the Governor, but he also believed Shivers was able to prevent any acts of violence that would follow integration. Eisenhower would respond differently in the crisis at Little Rock, where he federalized the Arkansas National Guard and ensured the integration of Central High School. Eisenhower’s relationship with Shivers may have contributed to his lack of response in Mansfield and ensured a continued personal and political alliance.
The people delegate certain powers to the national government, while the states retain other powers and the people, who authorize the states and national government, retain all freedoms not delegated to the governing bodies.
Eisenhower and the Little Rock Crisis (1957)
Assess President Eisenhower’s constitutional justification for his decision to send federal troops to Little Rock, Arkansas, to enforce a federal court’s order to integrate public schools.
- Students understand the events leading up to and including the Little Rock Crisis.
- Students analyze President Eisenhower’s constitutional justification for his actions.
- Students assess the President’s decision to use military force to prevent violent opposition to a court order.
- The United States Constitution, Article II (1789)
- The Tenth Amendment (1791)
- The Fourteenth Amendment (1868)
- “Terrence Roberts and Two Arkansas National Guardsmen,” September 4, 1957
- Telegram from Little Rock Mayor Mann to President Eisenhower, 6:24 PM, September 23, 1957
- Proclamation 3204, September 23, 1957
- Telegram from Mayor Mann to President Eisenhower, 9:16 AM, September 24, 1957
- Executive Order 10730, September 24, 1957
- “Operation Arkansas: A Different Kind of Deployment Photo,” September 25, 1957
- “Bayonet Point,” September 25, 1957
- Eisenhower’s Address to the Nation, September 24, 1957
Read the background essay. Then, using Documents A – K and your knowledge of history and current events, assess President Eisenhower’s constitutional justification for his decision to send federal troops to Little Rock, Arkansas, to enforce a federal court’s order to integrate public schools.
The Supreme Court case of Brown v. Board of Education (1954), with its declaration that segregated public schools were unconstitutional, overturned decades of precedent and challenged deeply-held social traditions. Southern resistance to the decision was widespread. President Dwight D. Eisenhower was not enthusiastic about federal judicial intervention in public education, but he carried out his constitutional responsibility to enforce the law by implementing desegregation in the District of Columbia. Not all state governments were quick to comply with the Supreme Court’s order to integrate “with all deliberate speed” and many fought against it openly. Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus ordered his state’s National Guard to block the entry of nine newly-enrolled African American students to Central High School in Little Rock. A violent mob gathered in front of the school, and city police failed to control it. Finally, when asked for assistance by the Mayor of Little Rock, President Eisenhower believed his constitutional duty to take care that the laws were faithfully executed left him no choice but to intervene, even to the point of using military force against American citizens.
After a series of legal proceedings the Federal District Court ordered the Little Rock School District to proceed with its integration plans when school opened on September 4, 1957. Governor Orval Faubus ordered the Arkansas National Guard to Little Rock Central High School on September 4, 1957, because he said he had evidence (although none was shown) that there was "imminent danger of tumult, riot and breach of peace and the doing of violence to persons and property."  The governor initially ordered to state duty the State Headquarters Detachment, the Base Detachment at Adams Field and any other units the Adjutant General felt necessary to "accomplish the mission of maintaining or restoring law and order and to preserve the peace, health, safety and security of the citizens of Pulaski County, Arkansas."  On September 4, Elizabeth Eckford was the only student to enter the school due to lack of communication. It is commonly but mistakenly believed that she was taking this stand on her own, but rather it was because she was the only student who didn't have a phone, so nobody could contact her to let her know the integration wasn't happening until the next day. 
Major General Sherman T. Clinger, the Adjutant General of Arkansas, assembled a force of 289 soldiers under command of Lieutenant Colonel Marion Johnson.  On September 4, 1957, Johnson told nine black students who were attempting to enter Central High School to return home. The National Guard presence gradually decreased to a fifteen-man day and night shift. By court order,  the National Guard was replaced by the Little Rock City Police on Friday, September 20, 1957. 
On Monday, September 23, 1957, nine black students entered Central High: Elizabeth Eckford, Minnijean Brown, Ernest Green, Thelma Mothershed, Melba Pattillo, Gloria Ray, Terrance Roberts, Jefferson Thomas and Carlotta Walls.  When word spread that the students were inside, a crowd of approximately 1,000 gathered outside the school.  There was a concern that the police would not be able to handle the crowd so for the safety of the students they were escorted back out of the school for the day. A force of 150 guardsmen had been assembled and placed on five-minute notice to assist the police at Central, but they were not called on. 
On Monday, September 23, 1957, President Dwight D. Eisenhower issued proclamation 3204  demanding anyone involved with the obstruction of justice to disperse. When his order was not followed, Eisenhower federalized the entire Arkansas National Guard the following day  and unit members began assembling at home stations throughout the night. By order of the President, the National Guard was thus directed to support the integration rather than block it as the units had been before.  On the 24th, elements of the 101st Airborne Division began arriving at Little Rock to provide additional support and took up positions around Central High. That same day, Adjutant General Clinger met with the commander of the Arkansas Military District and was ordered to assemble a force at Camp Robinson for duty at Central High. Those units were: 
This force, consisting of 107 officers, fifteen warrant officers and 1,184 enlisted men, closed on Camp Robinson just after noon on the 25th. The National Guard soldiers were told, "Our mission is to enforce the orders of the federal courts with respect to the attendance at the public schools of Little Rock of all those who are properly enrolled, and to maintain law and order while doing so . Our individual feelings towards those court orders should have no influence on our execution of the mission."  One Arkansas Guard major was quoted as saying, "We have been ordered to maintain the peace and that is what we intend to do."  The remainder of Arkansas National Guard units remained at home stations, conducting daily formations and training, but taking no part in the actual operations around Central High School. 
Student protection Edit
Beginning with night patrols on the 25th, the Arkansas units worked with the 101st Airborne Division, gradually taking over more of the responsibility. By the 30th the Arkansas National Guard had full responsibility for escorting the black students to and from Central High and for providing them with protection while inside the school. The majority of the Arkansas National Guard was released from active duty on October 1, 1957. The initial force of 1,200 assembled at Camp Robinson for duty at Central High School,  was gradually reduced to 435 officers and men. The 1st Battalion, 153rd Infantry Regiment (referred to as Task Force 153rd Infantry in the situational reports to President Eisenhower) performed this duty. 
From December 1957 through May 1958, Task Force 153rd Infantry maintained one platoon at Central High School, another on 30 minute recall at Camp Robinson, a company on one hour recall, while the remainder of the battalion remained on duty at Camp Robinson.  Members of the unit were involved in breaking up assaults on members of the Little Rock Nine by white students and responding to bomb threats against the school as late as February 1958.  On May 8, 1958, the last three Arkansas National Guard soldiers withdrew from Central High School. 
The Arkansas National Guard's actions in the face of intense national scrutiny were applauded by some people on both sides of the Central High School integration crisis. Harry Ashmore, editor of the Arkansas Gazette newspaper, who won the Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Writing "for the forcefulness, dispassionate analysis and clarity of his editorials on the school integration conflict in Little Rock",  said that no one, whatever their beliefs on school integration, could feel anything but admiration for the way the Arkansas guardsmen went calmly about their duties, steering clear of partisan pressure.  Superintendent of Little Rock Schools, Virgil Blossom, was also quoted as saying, "I have nothing but praise for the Guardsmen and the manner in which they performed a trying job under difficult circumstances."  They were not, however, applauded by at least one member of the Little Rock Nine. In her memoir about her experience at Central High, Melba Pattillo Beals recalls demanding a meeting with General Sherman T. Clinger of the Arkansas National Guard after the guardsmen "stood by, socializing and flirting, while we were being beaten within an inch of our lives."  According to Beals, Clinger did not deny the charges, but merely explained that his men had to live in the community. She further described the eighteen guardsmen selected as bodyguards after this meeting as the "biggest, dumbest, most disheveled hayseeds I'd ever seen." [ citation needed ] Others recall the inside-the-school guardsmen as neat with starched and pressed khakis, and dispute the allegation of beatings. [ citation needed ]
Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, the high school for African American students, opens. The school costs $400,000 - the Rosenwald Foundation donates $67,500 and $30,000 comes from the Rockefeller General Education Fund.
May 17, 1954
The United States Supreme Court rules racial segregation in public schools is unconstitutional in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. Five days later, the Little Rock School Board issues a policy statement saying it will comply with the Supreme Court’s decision. In May 1955, The Supreme Court further defines the standard of implementation for integration as being “with all deliberate speed,” in Brown II and charges the federal courts with establishing guidelines for compliance.
May 22, 1954
Superintendent Virgil Blossom and the Little Rock School District (LRSD) board announce their intention to comply with the Brown decision, but only after the courts have outlined an implementation decree.
August 23, 1954
Under the direction of Pine Bluff attorney Wiley Branton, chairman of the state’s NAACP Legal Redress Committee, the NAACP petitions the Little Rock School Board for immediate integration.
May 24, 1955
The LRSD board adopts a phased plan of integration called the Blossom Plan. After several changes, the Blossom Plan would develop into a quite limited approach that would begin only at Central High in 1957 after the construction of two new high schools for the growing urban population of Little Rock. One of the new high schools, Hall High, would be for white-only in the well-to-do western edges of Little Rock. The other, Horace Mann High in eastern Little Rock, would become an African American-only high school. The plan would be “fully implemented” over six years.
May 31, 1955
The U.S. Supreme Court issues its Brown II implementation order which directs school districts across America to proceed with desegregation with "all deliberate speed." Chief Justice Earl Warren writes the Court’s unanimous decision which in reality sets no specific deadlines. Southern school boards interpret this decision as a chance for delay.
January 24, 1956
Twenty-seven African American students in Little Rock attempt to enroll for the second semester at Central High, Little Rock Technical High, Forest Heights Junior High, and Forest Park Elementary School. They are refused enrollment by the LRSD Board of Education.
February 6, 1956
Twelve African American parents, on behalf of thirty-three African American students, file a federal lawsuit (Aaron v. Cooper) asking for immediate desegregation of Little Rock schools. The case uses the names of William Cooper, president of the LRSD board, and John Aaron, the first listed student. The suit is sponsored by the NAACP in its varied forms, this case would extend integration in Little Rock and across the South.
March 11, 1956
All eight of Arkansas's U.S. senators and congressmen demonstrate resistance by joining other southern legislators in signing the "Southern Manifesto” - a document that denounces the U.S. Supreme Court's decision on desegregation and encourages the southern states to resist it. They are joined by ninety-two other southern members of Congress.
April 6, 1956
Horace Mann High School for blacks opens on McAlmont, replacing overcrowded Dunbar High which becomes a junior high for blacks.
August 28, 1956
U.S. district court judge John E. Miller upholds the LRSD board's gradual desegregation plan in the case of Aaron v. Cooper, declaring that the Little Rock School Board has acted in “utmost good faith” in setting up its plan of gradual integration.
November 6, 1956
Orval Faubus wins reelection for a second term as governor after defeating the Democratic candidate Jim Johnson in the summer primary and the Republican Roy Mitchell in the November general election.
February 26, 1957
Faubus signs into law four bills previously approved by a majority vote of Arkansans in a General Election:
- Act 83 – creates a State Sovereignty Commission
- Act 84 – relieves school children of compulsory attendance in mixed public schools
- Act 85 – requires persons involved in certain activities to register with and make periodic reports to SSC
- Act 86 – authorizes school districts to employ legal counsel for certain purposes
April 29, 1957
An appeal of Aaron v. Cooper to a federal appellate court results in the upholding of the LRSD board's gradual desegregation plan. Judge John Miller had approved this plan at a lower level in federal district court the previous August. The federal district court retained jurisdiction over the case, however, making the School Board’s implementation of the Blossom Plan a court mandate.
June 27, 1957
Members of the Capital Citizens' Council, Reverend Wesley Pruden, and the lawyer Amis Guthridge submit a set of public questions to the LRSD board regarding plans for the social interaction of black and white students. They also inquire about opportunities for white and black students to attend segregated schools should their schools be integrated. This follows letters from the same organization to Governor Faubus asking that white and black students attend segregated schools.
July 27, 1957
The LRSD board responds to the questions of the Capital Citizens' Council, saying that providing only separate schools for whites and blacks will violate the court order to proceed with integration. It assures the public, however, that social interaction of the races will not occur and uses this opportunity to explain that the only Little Rock high school to be integrated is Central.
A variety of constituents file a series of suits in federal and chancery courts to either delay integration or declare some state segregation laws unconstitutional. Mary (Mrs. Clyde) Thomason, recording secretary of the newly formed Mothers' League of Little Rock Central High School, files one such suit. The Mother's League is a segregationist group supported by the Capital Citizens' Council. The League wishes to prevent integration at the high school, where some of the women have children. 10 African American ministers contest the validity of the February 1957 four acts in federal court.
August 22, 1957
Georgia Governor Marvin Griffin holds a meeting in Little Rock and attacks the 1954 Brown decision. He praises the courage of Arkansans who were fighting to preserve states' rights. While in Little Rock, he stays at the Governor's Mansion and dines with Governor Orval Faubus. Griffin says constitutional government would be dead "if the South surrenders her schools to the operation of the federal government."
August 23, 1957
Preregistration of students for all Little Rock schools begins. High school students pick up schedules, textbook lists, and an instruction sheet with first-day directions and school rules. Administrators at Central High expect as many as twenty African American students whom higher school authorities might assign to their building, but no African American students appear on this day.
August 26-27, 1957
Preregistration at Central High continues with sixty new students coming from Scott High School in Scott, Arkansas. The Pulaski County superintendent agrees to transport and pay tuition for these rural students so they might have more academic offerings than the small rural high school can provide. Some students are Japanese Americans who live and work on a produce farm near Scott.
August 27, 1957
The Mother’s League holds its first public meeting. The topic of their discussion: “inter-racial marriages and the diseases which might arise.” As a result of their conversations, the League draws up a petition against school integration behind which Governor Faubus throws his support. F or the League, Mary Thomason files a motion seeking a temporary reprieve from school integration and clarification of the ‘segregation’ laws. Several African American students attempt to enroll at Central High, but are turned away by the registrar and told they must go to the superintendent's office to obtain transfers for registration. Neither of the vice principals - J.O. Powell and Elizabeth Huckaby - nor principal Jess Matthews sees the students.
August 29, 1957
Pulaski County Chancellor Murray Reed grants a reprieve from school integration that was requested two days prior by the Mother’s League on the grounds that school integration could lead to violence. In May 1955, the Little Rock school board had adopted the Phase Program Plan of gradual desegregation that became known as the Blossom Plan, after its author and superintendent of Little Rock public schools, Virgil T. Blossom. Only Little Rock Central High was to be integrated. Integration in Little Rock would be achieved in phases - high school students integrated first in 1957, followed by junior high school students, and finally elementary school students. No dates were specified for the latter two phases.
August 30, 1957
Federal District Judge Ronald Davies nullifies the reprieve to school integration that had previously been granted by the Pulaski County Chancellor additionally, he orders the Little Rock School Board to proceed with its gradual integration plan.
September 2, 1957 – (Labor Day)
Labor Day is the final day of summer vacation for all Little Rock students. Governor Orval Faubus interrupts the “I Love Lucy Show” on local television to announce that he has received reports detailing “caravans” of white supremacists bound for Little Rock with the intention of preventing integration at Central High School. In order to prevent “blood in the streets,” he has called out the Arkansas National Guard (ANG) to preserve order at Central High. He says that the state militia will act not as segregationists or integrationists, but as "soldiers called to active duty to carry out their assigned tasks."
"Now that a federal court has ruled that no further litigation is possible before the forcible integration of Negroes and whites in Central High School tomorrow, the evidence of discord, anger, and resentment has come to me from so many sources as to become a deluge. There is evidence of disorder and threats of disorder which could have but one inevitable result— that is, violence which can lead to injury and the doing of harm to persons and property."
September 3, 1957
Hall High opens for white students in western Little Rock on a segregated basis. Teachers and white students attend Central High despite ANG soldiers around its perimeter. ANG lines prevent African American janitors, maids, and cafeteria cooks from entering. No African American students appear as Superintendent Blossom has requested that they stay away for their own safety.
The LRSD board petitions the federal district court asking for instructions. The board maintains that in light of the governor's actions in calling out the Arkansas National Guard, the board should be exempt from any charge of contempt. It asks that "no Negro students attempt to attend Central or any white high school until this dilemma is legally resolved."
The Mother’s League holds a “sunrise service” at Central High which is attended by members of the citizens’ council, disgruntled parents, students, and pastors. The crowd sings “Dixie” as the sun rises, illuminating Confederate Battle Flags flying over the scene. Despite this protest by the segregationists, Federal District Judge Ronald Davies orders that desegregation shall begin the next day. Meanwhile, Governor Orval Faubus orders the ANG to remain on guard at Central High.
September 4, 1957
10 African American students attempt to enter Central High for the first time. Late Tuesday evening, the principals of Dunbar and Horace Mann had informed the students that they would be going to Central the next day. Daisy Bates had then called the families of the students to inform them of the logistics for that Wednesday morning: do not come to Central High alone, but meet near the school around 8:30 a.m. where a group of local African American and white ministers would escort the students to the high school.
Elizabeth Eckford does not receive notice about this plan of action - the Eckfords do not have a telephone. Mrs. Bates intends to try to reach the Eckfords on Wednesday morning, but forgets in the hurried pace of the morning. Elizabeth rides a bus to Central, approaches the school just before 8:00 a.m. and sees the soldiers of the Arkansas National Guard surrounding the school. Barred by the soldiers in several failed attempts to be allowed past their ranks, Elizabeth finds herself in the throes of an angry mob of protesters numbering over 300+ on Park Street. Chants ["Two, four, six, eight! We don't want to integrate!"], racial epithets, terroristic threats and spit descend down on this fifteen-year old student as she attempts to make her way to the end of Park Street where perceived safety awaits her at another bus stop. After arriving at the bus stop, Elizabeth waits for 35 minutes in the interim, she is denied entrance to Ponder's Drug and supported by Benjamin Fine and Grace Lorch.
"The mob of twisted whites, galvanized into vengeful action by the inaction of the heroic state militia, was not willing that the young school girl should get off so easily. Elizabeth Eckford had walked into the wolf's lair, and now that they felt she was fair game, the drooling wolves took off after their prey. The hate mongers, who look exactly like other, normal white men and women, took off down the street after the girl." - Buddy Lonesome, St. Louis Argus
"Here she is this little girl, this tender little thing, walking with this whole mob baying at her like a pack of wolves seeking to destroy a little lamb." - Benjamin Fine, New York Times
The remaining nine students arrive after 8:00 a.m. at the corner of Park and 13th Streets as originally planned by Daisy Bates (Terrence Roberts and Melba Pattillo walk separately to Central) joining them as scheduled are local African American and white ministers there to escort the students safely to the school.
As the group approaches Central High School, they hear the crowds that had previously accosted Elizabeth Eckford and witness the Arkansas National Guard (ANG) standing their ground surrounding the high school. When one of the ministers leading the students approaches the Guard, he is met by Lt. Colonel Marion Johnson, the commanding officer of the ANG. Johnson tells the group that on the orders of Governor Faubus, the students are not to be permitted to enter the school. 10 students have come for an education that day - 10 students have been denied entry in direct violation of federal law.
"The officer repeated his order for us to leave. His men stood resolutely in formation, still blocking us out, their rifles slung across their chest. Our group stood there for a moment, not quite sure what to do. And then the ministers turned and led us silently away. The mob continued yelling in the distance, but this time, I barely heard any of it. I was completely stunned. I'd never missed a day of school in my life. I still could not believe that I was standing just steps from the schoolhouse door, wanting desperately just to go to class, and the powers that be wouldn't let me in. The highest court in the land had said I had a right to be at that school, to learn, just like the white children. What would it take to open those closed ears and change their hardened hearts?" - Carlotta Walls LaNier, one of the Little Rock Nine
Governor Orval Faubus reveals in an evening press conference that he had ordered the National Guardsmen surrounding Central High School to not permit the 10 students to enter. He tells newsmen that he does not consider this a violation of federal court orders to proceed with integration. Faubus also states that the command was issued from him to maintain peace and order, a responsibility of his as the chief executive of the state of Arkansas. Immediately after the press conference, Governor Faubus leaves his office - his aides will not tell the press where he has gone.
"The new order was based on the situation as it existed, the tension and unrest and in my judgment the real danger of disorder and violence and bodily harm to persons in the area." - Orval Faubus, Arkansas Democrat newspaper
September 6, 1957
Two major broadcasting networks, CBS and NBC offer to sit down with Governor Orval Faubus and give him a chance to tell his side of the Central High story thus far. Faubus has telegrammed President Dwight D Eisenhower with a willingness to provide evidence to the federal government justifying his use of the National Guard to “preserve the public peace." Eisenhower's response indicates, among other issues, that there is "no basis of fact" that federal authorities have considered taking Governor Faubus into custody.
September 7, 1957
Federal District Judge Ronald Davies denies a petition from the Little Rock School Board to delay integration at Central High School his ruling orders that desegregation begin on Monday, September 9.
Davies: “The testimony and arguments this morning were, in my judgment, as anemic as the petition itself." "In an organized society, there can be nothing but ultimate confusion and chaos if court decrees are flaunted, whatever the pretext."
While Virgil Blossom testified on behalf of the petition, Pine Bluff attorney Wiley Branton argued against the delay. Less than a decade earlier, Wiley Branton had helped integrate the University of Arkansas School of Law, assisting Silas Hunt in becoming the first African-American student admitted to the university since Reconstruction. Admitted in 1950, Branton would be the third African-American student to graduate with a law degree. One year before the desegregation crisis at Central High, Branton had filed suit against the Little Rock School Board for failing to integrate after the Brown v. Board of Education decision this lawsuit would ultimately be heard by the SCOTUS in 1958 as Cooper v. Aaron, a unanimous verdict that rejected the contention that the Arkansas legislature and Governor were not bound by the Brown decision and denied the Arkansas School Board the right to delay desegregation for 2.5 years.
President Dwight Eisenhower telegrams a defiant Governor Orval Faubus, “The only assurance I can give you is that the federal constitution will be upheld by me by every legal means at my command.”
September 8, 1957
Governor Orval Faubus conducts a televised press conference and re-affirms his stance on integration and insists that the federal government cease its demands for integration.
Question to Faubus: "You have called this a legal checker game, I believe. Whose move is it?"
Orval Faubus: "It is a little bit hard to tell at this time."
Faubus says that he has evidence that violence would happen if the Arkansas National Guard had not been called out, but declines to produce it. He is hopeful that the dispute over entering Central High can be over within a week.
Former President Harry Truman is asked by close friends to intervene with Governor Faubus, but he declines.
President Eisenhower signs the Civil Rights Act of 1957 - the first federal civil rights legislation passed by the United States Congress since the Civil Rights Act of 1875.
- Creates the Civil Rights Division in the Justice Department
- Empowers federal officials to prosecute individuals who conspired to deny or abridge another citizen’s right to vote
- Establishes a six-member U.S. Civil Rights Commission charged with investigating allegations of voter infringement.
September 10, 1957
Federal District Judge Ronald Davies begins injunction proceedings against Governor Orval Faubus and two National Guardsmen for interfering with integration. The hearing is scheduled for September 20th.
Governor Orval Faubus, accompanied by Congressman Brooks Hays, meets with President Eisenhower at Newport, Rhode Island to discuss the unfolding integration crisis at Central High.
The private, twenty-minute meeting between Faubus and Eisenhower yields these statements:
Eisenhower - "The governor stated his intention to respect the decision of the U.S. District Court and to give his full cooperation in carrying out his responsibilities in respect to these decisions."
Faubus - "When I assure the President, as I have already done, that I expect to accept the decisions of the court, I entertain the hope that the Department of Justice and the federal judiciary will act with understanding and patience in discharging their duties."
Although Faubus and President Eisenhower walk away from the meeting cordially, no real progress is made towards an agreement.
Attorney General Brownell, Vice President Richard M. Nixon, and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover all had advised against this meeting.
September 15, 1957
On this day 62 years ago, Governor Orval Faubus sits down for an interview with Mike Wallace from the Governor's Mansion in Little Rock - a day after his conference with President Eisenhower in Rhode Island.
Governor Faubus: "The Guard was not called out to prevent integration, but to keep the peace and order of the community. "
Faubus: "In fact, in a poll of the Little Rock area, eighty-two percent of the people agreed that disorder and violence would have occurred, had not I taken the action which I did."
Mike Wallace: "You and I, all of us, have seen photographs, Governor, of Negro children been turned away from Little Rock High school, and behind them white people jeering and cursing at them. Let me read to you what communist propaganda is to make of this several days ago, Radio Moscow said this, "The shameful spectacle of Negro children confronted by guns and ugly mobs, as they tried to enter schools, which racist elements are determined shall remain all white." Does it not give you pause to know that communist propagandists leap upon your actions to try to discredit the United States in the eyes of the world? In the eyes of the world which is composed of a majority of colored peoples?"
Faubus: "And that is why I want it to occur peacefully, with general acceptance, so that there will never be any such incidents as that. Sure you're quite willing now as others to point out the occurrence in Little Rock, but have you thought of the other occurrences across the land? Can I change the hearts of the people?"
September 16, 1957
Daisy Bates expresses concern at the "double talk" that comes out of the Faubus/Eisenhower conference in Rhode Island, noting that she was "very disappointed" that these two politicians laid out no "straightforward" explanations.
Eisenhower is strongly criticized by the Democratic Advisory Council, the policy-making arm of the Democratic National Committee. This 24-member group whose members include former President Harry S Truman and twice defeated presidential candidate Adlai E. Stevenson (both losses to Eisenhower, 1952/1956) said that Eisenhower "failed in his duty to make the principle clear to all of the country that the first responsibility of a Governor is to uphold the Federal Constitution." - Washington Post and Times Herald
An Associated Press report in the Arkansas Gazette describes an interview with African American students who are "marking time" until the Central High dispute is settled. Included among student names is sophomore Jane Hill. Her name will also appear in Elizabeth Huckaby's book Crisis at Central High, as Huckaby gathers class assignments for the African American students waiting to enter the school.
September 20, 1957
Federal District Judge Ronald Davies, during an injunction hearing, rules that Governor Orval Faubus had not used Arkansas National Guard troops to prevent violence.
"The petition of the United States of America as amicus curiae for a preliminary injunction against Governor Faubus, General Clinger and Colonel Johnson, and all others named in the petition is granted and such injunction shall issue without delay, enjoining those respondents from obstructing or preventing, by use of the National Guard or otherwise, the attendance of Negro students at Little Rock Central High School under the plan of integration approved by this Court and from otherwise obstructing or interfering with orders of this Court in connection with the plan of integration."
After being notified that the four attorneys representing him had walked out of the injunction hearing, Governor Faubus says, "Now begins the crucifixion. There will be no cross-examination, no evidence presented for the other side."
Three hours after the hearing ends, Faubus goes on television to announce the removal of the Arkansas National Guard from Central High School as members of the Little Rock Police Department assume duties around the high school campus. He leaves for the Southern Governor's Conference in Sea Island, Georgia.
Faubus tells the press: "I wouldn't think the parents of the Negro children would want their children in school with the situation that prevails now." Daisy Bates says she does not know yet when the students will return and try to enter Central High School.
September 23, 1957
An angry mob of over 1,000 whites gathers in front of Central High School, while nine African American students are escorted inside. The students enter Central High under protection of the Little Rock police and state troopers armed with riot guns and tear gas. The crowd outside becomes very threatening and attacks three out-of-state news reporters.
Four African American journalists - reporters Alex Wilson of the Memphis Tri-State Defender, James Hicks of the Amsterdam News, Moses J, Newsom of the Afro-American newspapers and photographer Earl Davy of Little Rock - are attacked outside Central High School after providing cover for the Little Rock Nine to enter through a side entrance under police escort.
Shortly after the attack near the school, Alex Wilson wrote about what happened to him on the morning and the choice he made that day:
"The disgraceful incident .. , occurred about 8:20 a.m. Monday, near the 16th and Park Street entrance of Central High. I parked my car about two blocks from the intersection. Newsom and I were in front with Hicks and Davy following, when we began the long, apprehensive walk. We had firsthand knowledge of where the nine stout-hearted Negro students were to enter and we set off at a fast clip to be on hand when they arrived at the campus entrance. About midway of the final block, we picked up a tail of two whites. They made no comment. We kept moving forward. A crowd of about one hundred faced the school (away from us), waiting for the nine students to appear. Then, someone in the crowd of whites spotted us advancing.
Suddenly the angry eyes of the entire pack were upon us. We moved forward to within ten feet of the mob, Two men spread their arms in eagle fashion, One shouted: "'You'll not pass!"
I tried to move to the left of the mob, but my efforts were thwarted. I made a half-turn left from the sidewalk and went over to a Little Rock policeman, who was standing mid-center of the street.
"What is your business?" he asked. I presented my press card. He took his time checking it. Then he said: "You better leave. Go on across the sidewalk" (away from the mob at my heels).
I followed his suggestion. After taking several steps, I looked back. The officer was near the opposite sidewalk, leaving the angry pack to track me.
The mob struck. I saw Davy being roughed up. Hicks and Newsom were retreating from kicks and blows. I stopped momentarily, as the boots and jeers behind me increased.
Strangely the vision of Elizabeth Eckford, one of the nine students, flashed before me as she with dignity strode through a jeering, hooting gauntlet of segregationists several days ago. Maybe, too, my training as a U.S. Marine in World War II and my experience as a war correspondent in Korea, and work on the Emmett Till case [a young African American boy who was lynched in Money, Mississippi, for whistling at a white woman] influenced my decision during that moment of crisis.
I decided not to run. If I were to be beaten, I'd take it walking if I could - not running."
Three and one-half hours after their entrance, school authorities and police remove the African American students through a side door and speed away in police cars. Reporters describe the crowds outside as "hysterical."
Little Rock Mayor Woodrow Mann sends an afternoon telegram to the White House in which he says that the "mob that gathered was no spontaneous assembly" and that it was "agitated, aroused, assembled by a concerted plan of action."
President Eisenhower addresses the "disgraceful occurrences" at Central High School and issues Presidential Proclamation 3204 which commands "all persons engaged in such obstruction of justice to cease and desist therefrom and to disperse forthwith."
Governor Faubus tells the press that he is keeping touch by phone with Lt. Governor Nathan Gordon and that he has "no plans at the moment to return to Little Rock" from Georgia.
September 24, 1957
Mayor Woodrow Mann telegrams the President "pleading..in the interest of humanity, law and order, and the cause of democracy worldwide to provide the necessary federal troops" to as the "mob is armed and engaging in fisticuffs and other acts of violence." He says the "situation is out of control and police cannot disperse the mob."
A release from the Governors' Conference in Georgia asks that President Eisenhower "notify the Governor of Arkansas that the maintenance of law and order in that State is considered to be the responsibility of the Governor of Arkansas, and that the Federal government will not attempt to exercise Federal responsibility in this matter so long as State and local authorities are able properly to perform this function."
President Eisenhower, informed of another mob at Central High after his cease-and-desist directive, federalizes the Arkansas National Guard, thus removing it from Governor Faubus's authority, and orders federal troops into Little Rock. One thousand members of the 327th Airborne Battle Group of the 101st Airborne Division are flown from Fort Campbell, Kentucky, to Little Rock and in place around Central High School by 7:00 p.m.
At 9:00 p.m. EDT, President Eisenhower addresses the nation from the White House indicating his decision and stating that “mob rule cannot be allowed to override the decisions of our courts.”
September 25, 1957
At 9:22 a.m., the Little Rock Nine are escorted through the front doors of Little Rock Central High School by more than 20 members of the 101st Airborne Infantry Division. As the Nine enter the main entrance under the care of 22 men, an Army helicopter circles overhead, 350+ paratroopers are surrounding the school's perimeter, and a crowd of students outside the building chant "2, 4, 6, 8, we ain't gonna integrate" in protest.
The area around the school has been cordoned off from spectators and protesters with only the press allowed inside a three-block perimeter this is the first occasion since school began three weeks prior that crowds had been prevented from gathering outside Central High School.
Before the Nine arrive at Central, Major General Edwin Walker, head of the Little Rock military district, addresses the student body in Central High's auditorium, telling them that "no one will interfere with coming, going, or your peaceful pursuit of your studies." Meanwhile, Federal Judge Ronald Davies calls for all four high schools in Little Rock to be integrated - Hall, Horace Mann, Little Rock Tech and Central, but only Central will see this take place.
Governor Faubus, silent since returning the previous night from the Southern Governors Conference, releases a statement saying he will go on television and radio the following night to discuss the "naked force being employed by the federal government against the people of my state."
Some 750 of Central High School's 2,000 students are absent.
September 26, 1957
Vice principals at Central bar from class the eighty boys and girls who signed out and left school on Wednesday, when the 101st escorted the African American s into school. Administrators require a conference with school authorities before returning to the building.
Governor Orval Faubus appears on television to address the people of Arkansas. He declares that “We are now in an occupied territory. Evidence of the naked force of the Federal Government is here apparent, in these unsheathed bayonets in the back of school girls.”
October 1, 1957
Federalized National Guard troops begin to take over responsibility from the 101st. School administrators ask them to "stay as much as possible in the background," a technique that Vice Principal Elizabeth Huckaby describes as "an error in judgment."
The 101st Airborne turns over control of the majority of their duties to the federalized Arkansas National Guard. At this point, emboldened by the marginalization of federal troops, those opposed to integration begin to harass the Little Rock Nine within the walls of Central High School.
October 2, 1957
Twenty-five community leaders call for peaceful compliance with the court ordered school integration. Alternatively, the Mother’s League petitions the Federal District Court to remove the 101st Airborne from Central High School on the grounds that their presence violated the state and federal constitution. The petition will be dismissed by Federal Judge Ronald Davies 15 days later.
October 3, 1957
Elizabeth Huckaby, alone, faces down a large group of white students who are confronting the Little Rock Nine outside the building, while other administrators and military officers attend a closed meeting in the principal's office. The student walkout planned for nine A.M. materializes, but many seniors, scheduled for college entrance exams, do not participate. Approximately 150 students walk out, some returning to the building by a side door. Those who remain outside go across the street and bum an African American effigy. Huckaby collects seventy names and school authorities suspend all of these students, pending conferences with their parents and Superintendent Blossom.
October 7, 1957
The sixth week of school and third of integration begins. A new system of assigning two guards per African American student begins for their individual protection. Appealing to segregationist fears, Faubus announces that members of the 101st Airborne Division troops invaded the girls' dressing rooms at Central High. Federal government spokespersons deny this charge.
Faubus says that 101st Airborne Division troops patrolling Central High School have invaded the privacy of girls' dressing rooms. Presidential press secretary James C. Hagerty calls the charge "completely untrue and also completely vulgar."
October 9, 1957
President Eisenhower is asked by a reporter about his opinion on Faubus' decision and the prospect of peaceful integration. In Little Rock, Governor Faubus says he does not think a "cooling off" period is possible at Central High School as long as the Little Rock Nine continue to attend classes. He defines "cooling off" as "a chance for tenseness to be allayed, time for litigation and time for the people to accept peacefully what is being crammed down their throats at bayonet point."
October 12, 1957
A mass prayer with 6,000-7,000 participants was held at churches and synagogues in the city of Little Rock for a peaceful resolution of the integration crisis at Central High School. Those involved did not favor either side of the integration dispute.
October 17, 1957
U.S. District Judge Ronald N. Davies dismisses a petition filed by an officer of the Mothers League of Central High School, which asked that a three-judge court be convened to order federal troops removed from the school.
October 24, 1957
The nine African American students enter Central High's front door for the first time without escort by federal troops.
November 8, 1957
Daisy Bates, President of the Arkansas Chapter of the NAACP, declared in the Arkansas State Press that “We believe that what is happening in Little Rock transcends the question of segregation versus integration. It is a question of right vs wrong, a question of respect against defiance of laws, a question of democracy against tyranny.”
November 14, 1957
Jeﬀerson Thomas, a member of the Little Rock Nine, is struck by a white student so hard that he falls to the ground. Another member of the Nine, Gloria Ray, is
insulted by a white student and pushed as the students are exiting an assembly. With the hopes of preserving the illusion that life was fine inside of Central High School, neither incident was made public.
November 18, 1957
The last 101st Airborne Division troops depart Little Rock, leaving federalized National Guardsmen on duty at Central High, still under the overall command of the 101st's Gen. Edwin A. Walker.
November 20, 1957
Despite constant incursions by “troublemakers” onto school grounds, the Justice Department decided not to prosecute these individuals as long as there was no further trouble.
November 27, 1957
The “last elements” of the 101 st Airborne departed Little Rock. Inside LRCHS, a rock is thrown at a hall guard by an unidentified student.
December 12, 1957
Businesses in the downtown area of Little Rock begin to receive anonymous letters warning of a massive boycott against their stores if they continued to advertise in the Arkansas Gazette due to the paper’s stand supporting integration.
December 17, 1957
Minnijean Brown, one of the Little Rock Nine, spills chili on the heads of two white boys who had been attempting to blocker way through the cafeteria by bumping into her with their chairs. For her action, Minnijean will receive a suspension until January 13th. On January 15th, white students will dump their chili on Minnijean in retaliation resulting in their expulsion.
January 8, 1958
Jim Johnson, a leader of the segregationists, files a proposed amendment to the Arkansas Constitution that would allow for district authorities to close schools that were facing court-ordered integration eﬀorts.
January 10, 1958
Darlene Holloway, a white girl, is suspended after a shoving incident involving Elizabeth Eckford.
January 24, 1958
Central High School receives its 5th bomb threat of the year. This time, dynamite is uncovered from an unused locker.
February 6, 1958
The Little Rock School Board again suspends Minnijean Brown, along with Lester Judkins Jr., who poured soup on her in the cafeteria. Brown has also called Frankie Ann Gregg "white trash" after Gregg hit Brown with a purse.
February 16, 1958
The Little Rock School Board publishes as an advertisement a school board statement on disciplinary policy, saying that it must provide an educational program and that if this means unruly students must be expelled, it will expel them.
February 17, 1958
The Little Rock School Board suspends three white students and expels Minnijean Brown for the remainder of the year. The board charges one white student, Billy Ferguson, with pushing Gloria Ray down a flight of stairs. It suspends Howard Cooper and Sammie Dean Parker for wearing "One Down and Eight to Go" cards. These printed badges refer to Brown's expulsion. Feb. 17: The Little Rock School Board expels Brown for the year. The Board also suspends three white Central students: Billy Ferguson, accused of having pushed African American student Gloria Ray down a flight of stairs and Howard Cooper and Sammie Dean Parker, for having worn "One Down, Eight to Go" badges referring to Brown's suspension.
February 20, 1958
Using a form of the Aaron v. Cooper case, the LRSD board files for a delay of two and one-half years in further desegregating Little Rock. The school board asks to be relieved of the burden of desegregation until the U.S. Supreme Court better defines "all deliberate speed," as specified in Brown II (1955). Feb. 20: The School Board asks the U.S. District Court to allow delay of integration here until the U.S. Supreme Court's requirement that desegregation be accomplished "with all deliberate speed" is more fully defined.
February 26, 1958
Sammie Dean Parker, a suspended student from Central High, and her mother physically attack Elizabeth Huckaby at a conference in Superintendent Virgil Blossom's office.
March 4, 1958
Amis Guthridge, a lawyer for the Capital Citizens' Council, offers a platform to suspended student Sammie Dean Parker to appear on a live thirty-minute television program, allowing her to say that her expulsion from Little Rock Central was unjust and was used as an example to other white students. March 4: Sammie Dean Parker appears on a 30-minute paid television program to be interviewed by attorney Amis Guthridge, a leader of the segregationist Capital Citizens Council. Parker says she was unjustly suspended as an example to other white students.
March 12, 1958
The Little Rock School Board allows Sammie Dean Parker to reenter Central High for the remainder of the school year after she agrees in writing that she will abide by the school's rules of conduct. Some historians have said that the LRSD board and Superintendent Blossom feared creating white martyrs in the community.
May 5, 1958
It is announced in New York that the Arkansas Gazette has received an unprecedented two Pulitzer Prizes, one the Gold Medal and another for editorial writing.
Tuesday, May 27, 1958
Senior Ernest Green becomes the first African American student to graduate from Central High School during its 149th commencement ceremony held at Quigley Stadium.
June 3, 1958
Highlighting numerous discipline problems during the school year, the school board asks the court for permission to delay the desegregation plan in Cooper v. Aaron.
June 21, 1958
Judge Harry Lemley grants the delay of integration until January 1961, stating that while the African American students have a constitutional right to attend white schools, the “time has not come for them to enjoy [that right.]”
September 12, 1958
Under appeal, the United States Supreme Court rules that Little Rock must continue with its desegregation plan. The School Board orders the high schools to open September 15. Governor Faubus orders four Little Rock high schools closed as of 8:00 a.m., September 15, 1958, pending the outcome of a public vote.
September 16, 1958
The Women’s Emergency Committee to Open Our Schools (WEC) forms and begins to solicit support for reopening the schools.
September 27, 1958
Citizens vote 19,470 to 7,561 against integration and the schools remain closed.
May 5, 1959
Segregationist members of the school board vote not to renew the contracts of 44 teachers and administrators they say supported integration.
May 8, 1959
The WEC and local businessmen form Stop This Outrageous Purge (STOP) and solicit voter signatures to recall the three segregationist board members. Segregationists form the Committee to Retain Our Segregated Schools (CROSS).
May 25, 1959
STOP wins the recall election in close victory. Three segregationists are voted off the school board and three moderate members are retained.
August 12, 1959
Little Rock public high schools reopen, nearly a month early. Segregationists rally at the State Capitol where Faubus advises them that it was a “dark” day, but they should not give up the struggle. They then march to Central High School where the police and fire departments break up the mob. Twenty-one people are arrested.
The Civil Rights History Project: Survey of Collections and Repositories
Collection Description (CRHP): See the interviews with:
Dale Alford, Member of Little Rock, Arkansas school board, 1955-58 Congressman from Arkansas, 1959-63.
J. Bill Becker, Arkansas labor union official involved in Arkansas civil rights activities.
Wiley Austin Branton, Attorney involved in Little Rock, Arkansas school integration crisis, 1957-59 Director, Voter Education Project, Southern Regional Council, 1962-65 Special Assistant to the U.S. Attorney General, 1965-67.
Vivion Brewer, President of the Women's Emergency Committee to Open Our Schools, Little Rock, Arkansas, 1958-60.
Herbert Brownell, Active in the Eisenhower Campaign, 1952 Attorney General of the United States, 1953-57.
Richard C. Butler, Special Counsel for the Little Rock, Arkansas school board, 1956-59.
Dr. William G. Cooper, Jr., President of Little Rock, Arkansas school board, 1957.
George Douthit, Reporter for the Arkansas Democrat during the Little Rock, Arkansas school integration crisis, 1957-59.
Harold Engstrom, Member of Little Rock, Arkansas school board, 1957.
Orval E. Faubus, Governor of Arkansas, 1955-67.
Amis Guthridge, Attorney involved with Capital Citizens Council during the Little Rock, Arkansas school integration crisis, 1957-59.
Brooks Hays, Congressman from Arkansas, 1943-59 involved in Little Rock, Arkansas school integration crisis, 1957.
A. F. House, Attorney for Little Rock, Arkansas school board, 1957-58.
Patricia House, Vice President of the Women's Emergency Committee to Open Our Schools, Little Rock, Arkansas, 1958-60.
Elizabeth Huckaby, Vice Principal for girls, Little Rock, Arkansas Central High School, 1957-59.
James T. Karam, Associate of Governor Orval Faubus during Little Rock, Arkansas school integration crisis, 1957.
R. A. Lile, Member of Little Rock, Arkansas, school board, 1957-58.
Sidney McMath, Governor of Arkansas, 1949-53, re the Little Rock, Arkansas school integration crisis, 1957.
Hugh Patterson, Jr., Publisher, Arkansas Gazette, at time of Little Rock, Arkansas school integration crisis, 1957.
Terrell E. Powell, Principal, Hall High School, Little Rock, Arkansas, 1957-58 Superintendent of Schools, Little Rock, Arkansas, 1958-61.
Wesley Pruden, President of the Citizens Council during Little Rock, Arkansas school integration crisis, 1957-58.
Irene Samuel, Leader of the Women's Emergency Committee during the Little Rock, Arkansas school integration crisis in 1957-59.
William T. Shelton, City editor, Arkansas Gazette, at time of Little Rock, Arkansas school integration crisis, 1957-59.
Robert G. Storey, Member, Commission on Reorganization of the Executive Branch of Government, 1953-55 Vice Chairman, U.S. Civil Rights Commission, 1957-63.
Everett Tucker, Jr., Member of Little Rock, Arkansas, school board, 1958-65
Wayne Upton, Member of Little Rock, Arkansas school board, 1957-58.
E. Grainger Williams, President of the Little Rock, Arkansas, Chamber of Commerce during school integration crisis, 1957-59.
Henry Woods, Attorney involved in Arkansas politics and Little Rock, Arkansas, school integration crisis, 1957-59.
Collection Description (Extant): This project gathered firsthand testimony from major players in the Eisenhower Administration (1953-1961), as well as the recollections of observers and of those knowledgeable about special aspects. In addition to General Dwight D. Eisenhower and members of his family, the list of participants includes members of the White House staff, cabinet members, political advisers, members of Congress, administrators, scientists, journalists, ambassadors, military and civilian specialists, and others in a position to testify about trends and events of the period.
Among topics well documented are the Republican conventions and campaigns of 1952 and 1956, the functioning of White House advisers and staff, the President's relations with his cabinet, the functioning of the Bureau of the Budget and various independent agencies, relations with the press, scientific developments, and other special aspects too numerous to mention, the whole interlaced with anecdotes about major and minor episodes in public life in the 1950s. Of special interest include a series of interviews done in Little Rock, Arkansas, on the school integration crisis there is of particular interest.
Access Copy Note: This collection is also held at the Eisenhower Library in Abilene, Kansas. See http://www.eisenhower.archives.gov/research/Oral_Histories/Oral_Histories.html for more extensive descriptions of interviews. Some transcripts are available on this website.
Digital Status: Partial
Existing IDs: OHC0000829
Extent: 380 Interviews Typescript (35,597 p)
Interviewees: Dale Alford, J. Bill Becker, Wiley Austin Branton, Vivion Brewer, Herbert Brownell, Richard C. Butler, William G. Cooper, Jr., George Douthit, Harold Engstrom, Orval E. Faubus, Amis Guthridge, Brooks Hays, A. F. House, Patricia House, Elizabeth Huckaby, James T. Karam, R. A. Lile, Sidney McMath, Hugh Patterson, Jr., Terrell E. Powell, Wesley Pruden, Irene Samuel, William T. Shelton, Robert G. Storey, Everett Tucker, Jr., Wayne Upton, Henry Woods
Rights (CRHP): Contact the repository which holds the collection for information on rights
Next week in Little Rock, Ark., former President Bill Clinton and several presidential candidates will commemorate perhaps America’s most important civil rights battle — the desegregation of Central High School.
Fifty years ago, Democratic Gov. Orval Faubus defied the federal government, tried to stop school integration and created the gravest constitutional crisis since the Civil War.
Thankfully, he lost. In the first and most important test of the Brown v. Board of Education ruling, federal law trumped state politics. Had integration failed at Little Rock, it’s hard to imagine it succeeding anywhere.
Sadly, if the past is prologue, those who convene next week at Central High will say the least about the man who did the most to defeat Faubus: President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
In 1997, Clinton stood at Central High and waxed poetic about the event’s significance in the civil rights struggle and in his own life. “It was Little Rock that made racial equality a driving obsession in my life,” he said. But in a 2,600-word elegy, Clinton mentioned Eisenhower only one time.
Clinton was not alone. For years, historians, like photo editors, have airbrushed the Little Rock scene so that Eisenhower hardly appears. Look closely: His vague image might still be seen at the picture’s edge. But if so, he is painted in shades of gray to note his supposed ambivalence.
Yet 50 years ago, Ike’s actions were not hard to see. They were bright, bold and bewildering to many leading Democrats. The political ancestors of today’s Democrats did not share the view that Ike didn’t do enough at Little Rock they believed he had done too much.
Democrats on the 101st Airborne
As the 101st Airborne soldiers executed Eisenhower’s orders and escorted the Little Rock Nine into Central High in September 1957, many in the Democratic establishment convulsed with rage.
Democratic Sen. John Sparkman of Alabama, who had run against Ike in 1952 as Adlai Stevenson’s vice presidential nominee, complained that “occupying Little Rock has brought about further deterioration of relations and further embitterment between our Negro and white citizens.”
Even deadlier venom was spewed by Democratic Sen. Richard Russell of Georgia. In a letter to the White House, he explicitly compared the 101st Airborne troops to Hitler’s storm troopers.
Meanwhile, Russell’s protégé, Senate Majority Leader Lyndon B. Johnson of Texas, sought a middle ground in the soil of moral equivalence by saying, “There should be no troops from either side patrolling our school campuses anywhere.”
In a letter to former Secretary of State Dean Acheson, he sneered that the president “may find that getting the troops out is a much more difficult proposition than getting them in.”
Sen. John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts even more skillfully navigated the Little Rock minefield. “The Supreme Court’s ruling on desegregation of schools is the law of the land,” he told a reporter, “and though there may be disagreement over the president’s leadership on this issue, there is no denying that he alone had the ultimate responsibility for deciding what steps are necessary to see that the law is faithfully executed.”
In one sentence, Kennedy vaguely reassured Northern liberals that he backed the Brown decision while hinting to Southern Democrats that he did not wholly support the president’s actions.
Democrats from the other chamber of Congress also commented.
Future House Speaker Jim Wright of Texas urged the president to visit Little Rock and experience the many “people of goodwill.” Perhaps this visit would clarify matters for the president. “I have every confidence that you are as fully anxious as anyone to find a basis on which the troops may be withdrawn and order restored at an early date.” Wright cheerfully warned that pursuing this course would look like a “surrender.”
Still, he urged a great American war hero to accept his own Appomattox.
And Ike’s opponent from his two presidential campaigns demonstrated his rhetorical flexibility. When the Little Rock crisis first erupted, Stevenson told the press, “I don’t suppose the president has much that he can do.”
And he had refused to advocate military force to uphold the court order. But when Ike did send in troops, Stevenson expressed mild support. The president “had no choice,” he said, but he called it a “temporary solution.” Stevenson soon found his famous lyrical voice and encouraged Ike to “mobilize the nation’s conscience as he has mobilized its arms.” But given the chance to help rally this moral cause himself, Stevenson refused to serve on the new Civil Rights Commission when asked by the president.
History’s faded memory
Like the recollections of the aging, historical memory not only fades but also sometimes changes. Why does Ike receive so little credit today?
Part of the answer can be traced to GOP presidential nominee Barry Goldwater’s opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. After that, the Republican Party largely retreated from the field and allowed Democrats to occupy the civil rights terrain.
Also, Eisenhower, like the nation he served, was sometimes conflicted about the pace of social change. He sought to manage a reform, not lead a revolution. And he believed that the iron bonds of federal law would not solve racial problems like the velvet cords of personal persuasion. These conservative beliefs translate poorly in history because many of the historians writing it view federal law as the most potent antidote to society’s ills.
And even at Little Rock, where he unambiguously confronted the segregationists, Ike’s methodical approach did not impress scholars. He wanted to do the right thing, but he also wanted to do the thing right. His deliberative hand has been misinterpreted as a divided mind.
So Eisenhower’s actions at Little Rock have been largely diminished, discounted and dismissed. In today’s light, his deeds seem modest, unmemorable and hard to see. Fifty years ago, they were anything but.
Kasey S. Pipes wrote speeches for President Bush and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and is the author of “Ike’s Final Battle: The Road to Little Rock and the Challenge of Equality” (World Ahead Publishing, 2007).
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Eisenhower Intervenes in Little Rock Crisis - HISTORY
The Sputnik I spacecraft.
One Small Ball in the Air: October 4, 1957November 3, 1957
On Friday, October 4, 1957, U.S. domestic news was dominated by Eisenhower's decision to send troops to Little Rock, Arkansas, to enforce civil rights legislation integrating the schools. When Americans heard about Sputnik, some stepped outside to look for the racing spot of light moving across the crisp autumn sky. Others stayed inside to watch the premiere of a comedy television program called Leave it to Beaver.
The Eisenhower administration viewed the Soviet satellite less as a military threat than as a boost to its behind-the-scenes efforts to establish the principle of "freedom of space" ahead of eventual military reconnaissance satellite launches. Sputnik overflew international boundaries, yet it aroused no diplomatic protests. Four days after Sputnik's launch, on October 8, Donald Quarles summed up a discussion he had with Eisenhower: "the Russians have . . . done us a good turn, unintentionally, in establishing the concept of freedom of international space. . . . The President then looked ahead . . . and asked about a reconnaissance [satellite] vehicle." 22
That same day, in response to mounting public alarm, U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles sent White House Press Secretary James Hagerty a memorandum on the Soviet satellite. Dulles called the Sputnik launch "an event of considerable technical and scientific importance," but he hastened to add that its "importance should not be exaggerated . . . the value of the satellite to mankind will for a long time be highly problematical." Furthermore, the Dulles asserted, "the United States . . . has not neglected this field. It already has a capability to utilize outer space for missiles and it is expected to launch an earth satellite during the present geophysical year in accordance with a program that has been under orderly development over the past two years." 23
The furor over Sputnik's launch took several days to build as opinion-makers struggled to interpret the event in the wider context of U.S. national security. Dulles's comments became the basis for the Eisenhower administration's response to the Soviet satellite. The day after Hagerty received the memorandum, on October 9, 1957, Eisenhower faced the press for the first time since the launch. Seeking to calm Congress and the public, he assured reporters that Sputnik contained "no additional threat to the United States," adding that "from what [the Soviets] say, they have put one small ball in the air." When asked how his administration could have let the Soviets be first in space, Eisenhower said that "no one ever suggested to me . . . a race except, of course, more than once we would say, well, there is going to be a great psychological advantage in world politics to putting the thing up, but . . . in view of the real scientific character of our development, there didn't seem to be a reason for just trying to grow hysterical about it." He added that he had provided the U.S. satellite and missile efforts with funds "to the limit of my ability . . . and that is all I can do." 24
Eisenhower's greatest error in the Sputnik "crisis" was his failure to appreciate the psychological dimension of launching the first satellite. Far from being about science solely, Sputnik came to be about the way Americans saw themselves. Many saw Sputnik as confirmation that the Soviets had an operational ICBM, a feat the United States, supposedly the technological leader of the world, could not yet match. 25 The administration's efforts to quell fears immediately backfired. Many interpreted Eisenhower's statements as evidence that he was out of touch. NASA Historian Roger Launius has summed up the (unfair) popular appraisal of Eisenhower at the time: "A smiling incompetent . . . a 'do-nothing,' golf-playing president mismanaging events. . . ." 26 His comments looked weak placed beside the alarmist statements emanating from Congress. Typical of these were comments by Democratic Senator Richard Russell of Georgia, chair of the Armed Services Committee: "We now know beyond a doubt that the Russians have the ultimate weapona long-range missile capable of delivering atomic and hydrogen explosives across continents and oceans. . . ." 27
Many criticized Eisenhower for pinching pennies and making ill-informed decisions without free debate at the expense of national technological leadership and security. As Aviation Week Editor-in-Chief Robert Hotz stated in the first of a series of scathing post-Sputnik editorials:
|We believe that the people of this country have a right to know the facts about the relative positions of the U.S. and the Soviet Union in this technological race which is perhaps the most significant event of our times. They have the right to find out why a nation with our vastly superior scientific, economic, and military potential is being at the very least equaled and perhaps surpassed by a country that less than two decades ago couldn't even play in the same scientific ball park. They also have the right to make decisions as to whether they want their government to maintain our current leadership of the free world regardless of the cost in dollars and sweat. . . . They are not decisions to be made arbitrarily by a clique of leaders in an ivory tower or on a golf course. 28|
On the day Eisenhower faced the media, Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson received his first post-Sputnik briefing from the Pentagon. Johnson was entertaining friends at his ranch near Austin, Texas, when the Sputnik news broke. "In the Open West you learn to live closely with the sky," he wrote later of the night of October 4. "It is part of your life. But now, somehow, in some new way, the sky seemed almost alien." 29 In addition to an alien sky over the Texas hill country, Johnson saw in Sputnik an issue important to the nation that could advance his career and party. According to Johnson aide Glen Wilson, Johnson launched plans that very night for a public investigation into the state of U.S. satellite and missile programs in the Senate Preparedness Subcommittee, which he chaired. 30
Eisenhower publicly downplayed concerns over Sputnik, but behind the scenes, he took modest steps to counter the Soviet propaganda victory. On October 8, he had asked outgoing Secretary of Defense Charles Wilson to order the Army Ballistic Missile Agency (ABMA) at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama, to ready a Jupiter-C rocket to launch a satellite. Not until November 8, however, did the command reach the Redstone Arsenal and become public. 31 The ABMA received authorization from the Army for two launch attempts. Project Vanguard transferred a science instrumentJames Van Allen's radiation detectorfrom one of the later planned Vanguard satellites to the ABMA effort.