“The humiliating expectations and traditions of segregation creep over you, slowly stealing a teaspoonful of your self-esteem each day” (Melba Patillo 1962).
A group of 9 African Americans called The Little Rock Nine, enrolled at an all-white Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas on September 1957. September 4, 1957 was the first day of classes for Little Rock Nine. In order to block their entry, Governor Orval Faubus call in the Arkansas National Guard. Later that month President Dwight D. Eisenhower sent in federal troops escort the Little Rock Nine into the school. Minnijean Brown, Elizabeth Eckford, Ernest Green, Thelma Mothershed, Melba Patillo, Gloria Ray, Terrence Roberts, Jefferson Thomas, and Carlotta Walls were all recruited by Daisy Gastion Bates, president of the Arkansas NAACP who is also the co-publisher of the Arkansas State Press, an influential African-AMerican newspaper. On September 23, police escorted the Little Rock Nine into the school, going through a angry mob of 1,000 white protesters. In order to stop rioting, the police removed the nine students.The Little Rock Nine finally had made it into the school. But the harassment was far from over. White students continued to physically and verbally attack them everyday, but teachers and administrators didn’t do anything about it. Among the Little Rock Nine was Elizabeth Eckford. She recounted that morning:”I walked up to the guard who had let the white students in…. When I tried to squeeze past him, he raised his bayonet and then the other guards closed in and they raised their bayonets. They glared at me with a mean look and I was very frightened and didn’t know what to do. I turned around and the crowd came toward me . . . . I tried to see a friendly face somewhere in the crowd—someone who maybe would help. I looked into the face of an old woman and it seemed a kind face, but when I looked at her again, she spat on me.” The Little Rock Nine finally had made it into the school. But the harassment was far from over. White students continued to physically and verbally attack them everyday, but teachers and administrators didn’t do anything about it.
The event drew national and international attention to the issue of school desegregation. New York times reported, the some of the classrooms were half-empty and “from time to time groups of white students threw down their books and walked out of school. Some of them chanted . . . ‘two, four, six, eight, we don’t want to integrate.’?On september 24 President Eisenhower addressed to the nation on television from the White House. In his speech he called attention to the necessity of law and order, and to his duty as president to “support and insure the carrying out of the decisions of the federal courts.” President Eisenhower also was outraged about the mobs that had formed outside of the school,”Mob rule cannot be allowed to override the decisions of the courts,” he said on September 24, 1957 on television. He sent 1,200 101st Airborne Division from the U.S. Army to protect the nine students. The first black graduate from Central High was Ernest Green. He was the only senior among the Little Rock Nine. He graduated on May 25, 1958 and Martin Luther King Jr. attended his graduation.
The Little Rock Nine endured a year of verbal, emotional, and physical abuse at the hands of white students and Little Rock public schools shut down altogether and was known as “the lost year.”Outside school, the adults in the black community were also subject to white malice. For example, number of parents of the nine were fired from their jobs. The Bates’ home was attacked on a regular basis. State agents of the Internal Revenue Service began to take a special interest in their finances. The hardest blow segregationists struck was in encouraging white advertisers to boycott the newspaper co-owned by the Bates, the Arkansas State Press, which led to the paper’s eventual collapse in October 1959.Even though each of the Little Rock Nine was assigned a personal military escort, the troops weren’t allowed into classrooms, bathrooms, or locker rooms. As a result, Carlotta, like the other eight students encountered daily threats and violence, white students spat on her and yelled many insults like “baboon”. They knocked books out of her hands and kicked her when she bent down to pick them up. Despite the constant harassment, Carlotta refused to shed tears or fight back. “I considered my tormentors to be ignorant people,” she says. “They did not understand that I had a right to be at Central. They had no understanding of our history, Constitution or democracy.”
Someone else who had to face the same challenges as Little Rock Nine was Ruby Bridges. Ruby Bridges was the first African-American child to attend an all-white public elementary school in the American South. Ruby Bridges was six when she became the first African-American child to integrate a white Southern elementary . Ruby and her mother were escorted by four federal marshals to the school every day that year. She walked past crowds screaming vicious slurs at her. She later said she only became frightened when she saw a woman holding a black baby doll in a coffin. Bridge’s bravery made a way for continued Civil Rights action. She spent her first day in the principal’s office due to the chaos created as angry white parents pulled their children from school. Segregationists took their children out of the school districts permanently
Ruby ate lunch alone and sometimes played with her teacher at recess, but she never missed a day of school that year.
Ruby and Little Rock nine both had created a path for black students. They persevered through the struggle, discrimination, and the hate they faced on a daily basis. At first, they were both challenged with fear and oppression, but overcame and they both finished their school years strongly with their heads held up high. If it wasn’t for them, I would not have been able to share the same experiences or be with any of my classmates today.