Saturday, July 11, 2020
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Students mark 60 years of integration in Little Rock

The Supreme Court’s decision in the case of Brown v Board of Education was handed down in 1954, 63 years ago, but for students at Central High School in Little Rock, resistance to integration lasted for years after the decision, writes Maggie Hendrix, a staff reporter for The Register, the student newspaper at Fayetteville High School in Arkansas.

George Hayes, Thurgood Marshall, James M Nabrit congratulate each other in 1954 (Libr. of Congress)

“Sixty years since the integration of Little Rock Central High School,” she wrote on Friday. “On September 25, 1957, the Little Rock Nine—nine African-American high schoolers—entered the white school.” Here’s how it happened:

Shortly after the Supreme Court’s 1954 ruling that school segregation is unconstitutional, Little Rock’s school board stated that it would follow the Supreme Court ruling to integrate schools. The school board began the process of interviewing black students to integrate Central High School in Spring of 1957. Of the 17 chosen, eight opted to remain at the all-black high school, which left the remaining “Little Rock Nine.”

In August, the integration process was paused by the county chancellor due to claims by the school’s new Mother’s League that violence could result from efforts to integrate. By the end of August, it was ruled that such charges were invalid. At the beginning of September, Arkansas Governor and known segregationist Orval Faubus brought the Arkansas National Guard to Central High to prevent integration, although he claimed that they were maintaining order. A federal district judge ruled that classes should begin on September 4.

On that day, National Guard troops and hundreds of white protesters gathered at the school to prevent the Little Rock Nine from entering. Crowds were violent and aggressive, screaming racial slurs and threats. In late September, the judge ruled that Faubus called the National Guard with the goal of blocking integration, and the governor was forced to remove the troops.

The situation was quite different in Fayetteville. The schools there had already been integrated for about three years prior to the events in Little Rock, where President Dwight D Eisenhower had to send in federal troops just so the nine African-American students could go to school. He sent the 101st Airborne Division on September 25.

Events have been planned in Little Rock around the 60th anniversary of this historic moment from our past.

For one, Clay Enoch’s statue entitled “United” will be dedicated on the front lawn of Little Rock Central High School. Allegorical figures raise their arms in the statue, which won the 2016 Sculpture at the River Market Public Monument Competition, as they interlock their respective rings in the effort to be united. The fact that the rings are incomplete symbolizes that we still have a ways to go. The dedication ceremony is scheduled for 1:30 PM, September 22.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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