School Desegregation

What was the work of the “Little Rock Nine”?

Daisy Bates (1920–1999), then president of the Arkansas state branch of the NAACP, led nine black students to integrate Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, on September 25, 1957. For their efforts, Bates and the “Little Rock Nine,” as they came to be known, received the NAACP’s Spingarn Medal on July 11, 1958. The medal was given “in grateful acknowledgement of their courageous self-restraint in the face of extreme provocation and peril.” In 1998 the U.S. Senate voted to award Congressional gold medals to the nine at a White House ceremony and presented the awards in 1999. Bates was recognized again when the state of Arkansas declared the third Monday in February in her honor. Bates was born in Huttig, Arkansas, and was raised by adoptive parents. She grew up in a positive relationship with her surrogate parents and attended the poorly equipped segregated schools in her hometown. When she married in 1941, she moved with her husband to Little Rock, where she and her husband leased the Arkansas State Press. The paper’s report of the beating death of a black army sergeant by a local white policeman led to loss of its advertising from white businessmen, but it survived and gained stature as an independent voice of the people, which worked to improve conditions for blacks throughout the state. When Arkansas moved slowly to follow the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1954 desegregation order, the NAACP, under Bates’ leadership, protested and developed several strategies to force quicker action. Daisy Bates and other NAACP officials surrendered to police on October 25, 1957, following an arrest order issued by the Little Rock City Council that charged the organization with violation of a new law requiring organizational information. Bates was convicted and fined, but the decision was later reversed. The Arkansas State Press ceased publication in 1959, but Bates continued to be active in voter registration drives and in work with the Democratic National Committee; the paper resumed publication in 1985.

Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, was the site where NAACP leader Daisy Bates led nine black students into the all-white school in 1957, bravely smashing the color barrier.


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