The history behind the Little Rock Nine
In September of 1957, the country was changed
forever by the “Crisis at Central High”—one of the first federally
ordered integration acts. At that time, the United States was a nation
of racial inequalities and segregation.
In Little Rock, nine courageous black students dared to challenge racial
segregation in American public schools by enrolling at the all-white Central High
School, and the “Little Rock Nine” became an integral part of the fight for
change and a foundation for equal opportunity in America.
History of the Little Rock Nine & Brown v. Board of Education
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 in Little Rock, nine black students enrolled at the 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 report to Little Rock and surround the Central High School campus to 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, known as the “Little Rock Nine” 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 begins to act 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 a national historic site and an icon for racial equality and
Former Little Rock Central High School Visitor’s Center
The original visitor center, a refurbished Mobil gas station across
the street from the high school, was formally opened as the Central High
School Museum Visitor Center in September, 1997. It is now used for special programs.
It was replaced in 2007 by a new Little Rock Central High School visitor’s center which opened on September 25, 2007 in time for the 50th anniversary. The center is located at 2120 Daisy Bates Drive near Central High.
The free museum tells the
story of the events of the 1957 desegregation crisis through
historical photographs, artifacts, articles and other historically relevant information that help explain life in that era and its impact on African American heritage. It’s one of the most interesting places to visit in Central Arkansas and includes visitor information services, a retail sales
area, restrooms and a conference room with flexible space for
educational and meeting opportunities.