September 25, 1957: Central High School integrated
On September 25, 1957, a group of black students, now known as the Little Rock Nine, entered Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas under armed guard. The school had an enrollment of approximately two thousand white students— many of them angry about the court-ordered integration. Despite near-constant harassment and discrimination, however, eight of the nine students completed their first year at Central High.
Brown v. Board of Education
Three years prior to the Little Rock Nine entering Central High School, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously in Brown v. Board of Education that segregated educational facilities were inherently unconstitutional.
Five days after the verdict, the Little Rock School Board issued a statement saying they would comply with the decision once the Supreme Court defined the method and time frame in which desegregation should take place, a promise they didn’t intend to keep.
Little Rock Nine
During the summer of 1957, a group of nine students — consisting of Melba Pattillo, Ernest Green, Elizabeth Eckford, Minnijean Brown, Terrence Roberts, Carlotta Walls, Jefferson Thomas, Gloria Ray, and Thelma Mothershed —enrolled at Little Rock’s Central High School. The act was supported by the Brown v. Board of Education decision, reached three years earlier.
Despite Arkansas’s rather progressive history (for a Southern state), the people DID NOT like this development one bit. On September 2, Governor Orval Faubus (heeding the people’s call) activated the Arkansas National Guard, instructing them to surround the high school and block the students from entering.
All hell breaks loose
It wasn’t just the National Guard troops waiting for the black students on opening day. Hundreds of angry white civilians gathered and turned violent when the students started to arrive — throwing stones, shouting racial epithets, and threatening death.
It wasn’t until September 25, under the guard of men who once prevented their entry, that the students finally gained access to Central High. President Eisenhower, who had just federalized the Arkansas National Guard, said he did so to prevent “mob rule” and “anarchy.” In a last-ditch effort to fight integration, Governor Faubus closed all three of Little Rock’s public high schools in 1958.