"On September 4, 1957, Elizabeth Eckford walked to this door for her first day of school, utterly alone. She was turned away by people who were afraid of change, instructed by ignorance, hating what they simply could not understand. And America saw her, haunted and taunted for the simple color of skin, and in the image caught a very disturbing glimpse of ourselves."
-President William J. Clinton in his remarks at the 40th anniversary of the desegregation of Central High School. September 25, 1997.
In these photos, President Clinton holds open the doors of Little Rock Central High School for Elizabeth Eckford, one of the Little Rock Nine. The picture below shows 15-year-old Elizabeth Eckford on the first day that she tried to attend Central High School.
On November 9, 1999, at the White House, President Clinton awarded the Little Rock Nine the Congressional Gold Medal.
Integration Crisis at Little Rock Central High School
During the 1957 integration crisis at Little Rock’s Central High School, emotions were strong across the country. Some people were opposed to President Eisenhower sending Federal troops to make sure that the black students could attend class. Others, like Helen Armstrong of Lincoln Park, Michigan, wrote to say they supported his actions.
-from the Eisenhower Library
President Dwight D. Eisenhower Orders Federal Troops into Little Rock to Insure the Safety of Nine African American Students
Today in history, after state and local authorities failed to uphold the Federal Court orders for integration at Central High School, President Eisenhower sent the 101st Airborne Division to enforce those orders.
The conflict dated back to the May 17, 1954, U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education, which stated segregated schools are “inherently unequal.” In September 1957, as a result of that ruling, nine African American students enrolled at Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas.
Before the school year started, Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus ordered the state’s National Guard to surround Central High School to prevent entry of the African American students. The crisis escalated into mob riots, prompting a plea from the Mayor of Little Rock, Woodrow Wilson Mann, for federal assistance in the confrontation.
Eisenhower wrote in his notes from the day: “Troops - not to enforce integration but to prevent opposition by violence” to the Supreme Court’s ruling.
Students, soldiers, and newsmen in front of Central High School. Circa September, 1957. Courtesy of the Central High Museum Historical Collections.
President Eisenhower’s special broadcast on the Little Rock situation. September 24, 1957.
Telegram, Woodrow Wilson Mann to President Eisenhower, September 24, 1957.
Handwritten notes by President Eisenhower on decision to send troops to Little Rock, September 1957.
Telegram from Parents of the Little Rock Nine to President Eisenhower
On May 17, 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education that segregated schools are “inherently unequal.” In September 1957, as a result of that ruling, nine African-American students enrolled at Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. The ensuing struggle between segregationists and integrationists, the State of Arkansas and the federal government, President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus, has become known in modern American history as the “Little Rock Crisis.”
When Governor Faubus ordered the Arkansas National Guard to surround Central High School to keep the nine students from entering the school, President Eisenhower ordered the 101st Airborne Division into Little Rock to insure the safety of the “Little Rock Nine” and that the rulings of the Supreme Court were upheld.
The telegram here was sent to President Eisenhower by the parents of the nine students.
-Explore more documents from the Little Rock School Integration Crisis from the Eisenhower Library
The Little Rock School Integration Crisis
On September 2, the day before school was to start in Little Rock, Arkansas,Governor Orval Faubus ordered the state’s National Guard to surround Central High School to prevent entry of African-American students. The group, since known as the Little Rock Nine, did not attend the first day, but on September 4, the National Guardsmen barred their entry to Central High School.
Three weeks later, amid mob violence outside of the school, President Dwight D. Eisenhower ordered the dispatch of federal troops to uphold the law. Read More.
Photo: National Guard Troops lined up along Park Street in front of Little Rock Central High School. Courtesy of the Central High Museum Historical Collections/UALR Archives and Special Collections. September 1957.
-from the Presidential Timeline
The original 19th Amendment will be on display from October 19-24 at the Clinton Presidential Library. If you’re near Little Rock, Arkansas, visit the Library to see the amendment that guarantees all American women the right to vote.
Pictured here, President William Jefferson Clinton, First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Chelsea Clinton waving from the back of the campaign train during the Huntington Train Kick-off event for the whistle stop tour. Huntington, West Virginia. 8/25/96
-from the Clinton Library, National Archives ID: 6160456
Eisenhower Dispatches Federal Troops to Enforce Desegregation
On September 24, 1957, The Little Rock Nine attended their first full day of classes after President Eisenhower ordered the dispatch of the 101st Airborne Division of the U.S. Army to ensure the students’ safety and to uphold the law of the Supreme Court.
On May 17, 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled in Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education that segregated schools are “inherently unequal.” In September 1957, as a result of that ruling, nine African-American students enrolled at Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas.
The ensuing struggle between segregationists and integrationists, the State of Arkansas and the federal government, President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus, has become known in modern American history as the “Little Rock Crisis.” The crisis gained world-wide attention. When Governor Faubus ordered the Arkansas National Guard to surround Central High School to keep the nine students from entering the school, President Eisenhower ordered the 101st Airborne Division into Little Rock.
The manuscript holdings of the Eisenhower Presidential Library contain a large amount of documentation on this historic test of the Brown vs. Topeka ruling and school integration. See selections from the digital catalog here.
Photo: Little Rock Nine escorted into Central High School by U.S. Army 101st Airborne Division soldiers. Courtesy of Central High Museum Historical Collections.
-from the Eisenhower Library
Wow, the wonderful world of Tumblr at work here. Coolchicksfromhistory provided this insightful historical note to a photo we posted. Thanks for being awesome Tumblr’ers. We like learning from you.
Below is a timeline of the integration of Little Rock’s Central High from Our Presidents. The top photo was taken on September 4, 1957, the first day of school. Fifteen year old Elizabeth Eckford (pictured) should have been part of a group of nine students, but at the last minute the NAACP delayed the integration because they believed the governor was going to bring in the Arkansas National Guard to prevent their enrollment. Elizabeth was the only one would didn’t get the message and showed up for school that day.
Elizabeth arrived to find an angry mob and no organized protection. Grace Lorch (pictured), a 50 something white member of the NAACP, dropped her daughter off at junior high that morning and stopped by the high school to see what was going on. Grace found Elizabeth on her own and escorted her to her mother’s workplace via a city bus.
Think for a second about what it must have been like to have been either of those women. Elizabeth was only 15 years old and a historic event rested on her bravery. One of six children, her mother taught in a segregated school for blind and deaf children while her father worked nights for the railroad. Either of them could have lost their jobs over her enrollment at Central High. Their house could have been firebombed, they could have been killed. All for going to school.
Grace was a serious social justice advocate, both she and her husband had lost jobs over their activism. That day she told the crowd they would be ashamed of themselves in six months and if anyone touched her she would punch them in the nose. Grace wasn’t an armed National Guard, but she was one tough lady.
In the summer of 1957, the city of Little Rock, Arkansas, made plans to desegregate its public schools.