In 1954, the Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka decision officially declared segregation in public schools as unconstitutional. All U.S. public schools were instructed to integrate. Within a week, Arkansas was one of two Southern states to announce it would begin immediately to take steps to comply with the new ruling. The Arkansas Law School had been integrated since 1949, and by 1957, seven of Arkansas’s eight state universities had desegregated. Blacks had been appointed to state boards and elected to local offices; however, public state high schools were a different story.
In September of 1957, the public school ruling was tested for the first time when nine black students enrolled at Little Rock’s previously all-white Central High School.
The list below details the sequence of events before, during and after the desegregation attempt.
September 2, 1957 - The day before classes begin for the new school year, Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus summons the Arkansas National Guard to surround Central High School and block any attempts by black students to enter the school. Faubus announces in a public television speech that the orders are a proactive approach to prevent violence to all citizens and property and to “preserve the peace.”
September 4 - Nine black students attempt to enter Central High but are turned away by the National Guard.
September 20 - A federal judge grants an injunction to NAACP lawyers Thurgood Marshall and Wiley Branton to impede the governor's use of the National Guard. The troops withdraw.
September 23 - Little Rock police officers and over 1,000 integration protestors surround the school in anticipation of the black students’ attempt to enter the school. The police escort the students into the high school’s side door unnoticed. Outside, the mob learns of the students’ entrance and becomes angry and aggressive. They begin to challenge the police officers. Fearful the crowd will get out of control, the school administration moves the black students out a side door before noon.
September 24 - U.S. Congressman Brooks Hays and Little Rock Mayor Woodrow Mann ask the federal government for help via a telegram to President Dwight Eisenhower. President Eisenhower displaces between 1,100 and 1,200 federal troops of the 101st Airborne Division and places 10,000 National Guardsmen on duty.
September 25 – The Little Rock Nine, under protection from federal troops, enter Central High School through the front entrance. Aggressive white mobs verbally chastise the students and physically harm black reporters in the crowd covering the affair. The event is seen around the world.
Fifty years later - The courageous efforts of the Little Rock Nine are celebrated as one of the most defining chapters in Little Rock's history, and as one of the earliest victories of a long overdue civil rights movement. Central High remains one of the leading education centers in Arkansas and stands as an icon for racial equality and social reform.
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