60 years since the integration of Little Rock Central High School

60 years since the integration of Little Rock Central High School

Maggie Hendrix, Reporter

This month marks 60 years since the integration of Little Rock Central High School. On September 25, 1957, the Little Rock Nine — nine African American high schoolers —  entered the white school. Beginning with the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court ruling that mandated desegregation in America’s public schools, there was conflict in Little Rock between those who wanted to abide by the ruling and segregationists.

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.

Meanwhile, Fayetteville schools were celebrating their third year of integration, having been the second school system in Arkansas to integrate in September 1954.

On September 23, despite growing hostility from the mob, the Little Rock Nine were able to enter the building, but, when protesters discovered that the black students were inside, the police had to evacuate the students because the crowd became so hostile. Prompted by Little Rock’s mayor, President Eisenhower sent US troops to the school.

Finally, on September 25, the Little Rock Nine entered Central High under the protection of the US Army’s 101st Airborne Division. The troops were at the school for the remainder of the year, but the students still faced discrimination in the form of emotional and physical attacks. Following school year, Governor Faubus closed all of Little Rock’s high schools in order to prevent integration, but they were reopened the next year as a result of a ruling by a federal court. In 1958, Ernest Green was the first black student to graduate from Central High School.

Sixty years after the Little Rock Nine first entered Central High School, they are still remembered throughout Arkansas and the country. Events will be held in Little Rock from September 22 to 25 to commemorate Central High’s integration.

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