On this date in 1957, nine black students, known as the “Little Rock Nine”, integrated Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas.
On May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court handed down the consolidated decision of Brown v. Board of Education, striking down “separate but equal” segregation in the educational context, and overturning Plessy v. Ferguson. Many school districts still were resistant to this ruling, so the Court heard follow-up oral arguments to Brown. The Court then issued a second ruling in Brown in 1955. In Brown II, the Court ordered all the previous cases on the issue of school desegregation “remanded to the District Courts to take such proceedings and enter such orders and decrees consistent with this opinion as are necessary and proper to admit to public schools on a racially nondiscriminatory basis with all deliberate speed the parties to these cases.” Brown, 349 U. S. 294, 301.
Following the decisions of the Brown cases, the Little Rock School Board decided to comply with the decision and the Little Rock Nine enrolled in Central High School. On September 4, 1957, the Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus ordered the Arkansas National Guard to block their entry for the first day of classes because he was worried about violence and bloodshed if the school were integrated; the Nine were turned away from school. Photographers were able to capture images of one the Nine, Elizabeth Eckford, surrounded by an angry mob as she tried to enter the school.
All attempts for the Nine to go to school were thwarted: President Eisenhower met with Faubus while on vacation in Rhode Island and warned him not to interfere any further with integration; the U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Little Rock issued an injunction removing the guardsmen from blocking the school entrance; and, the Little Rock police tried to sneak the Nine into the school but were outnumbered by a mob of angry white parents within the school, who turned them away. Subsequently, the mayor of Little Rock requested federal troops to help integrate Central H.S. President Eisenhower sent the 101st Airborne Division of the U.S. Army to escort the Little Rock Nine into the school on September 25, 1957.
For more information, check out these sources:
Integration of Central High School
The Little Rock Nine Foundation
History – Brown v. Board of Education Re-enactment
Brown v. Board of Education – PBS