In May 1955, following the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case and mounting pressure from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the all-white school board in Little Rock, Arkansas became the first southern school board to comply with the Supreme Court's mandate to desegregate public schools. Worried about the impact of sudden change in a segregated society, the school board planned to desegregate Little Rock's schools gradually over the course of six years, starting with nine black students attending the all-white Central High School.
Melba (Pattillo) Beals and eight other students matriculated from the local black schools, Dunbar Junior High School and Horace Mann High School. Beals and the other students were chosen because they were strong students with good grades. Although the students took pride in the education they received at the black schools, they recognized that the black schools were not equal to white schools. Where there were buses for white students, there were none for black students, forcing many of them to walk past the white school to get to their school. Once there, students at the black schools received used books and equipment left over from the white schools. When Dunbar Junior High School was initially built for junior and senior high school students, the building cost $400,000 and had a small library, no gym, and no football field. In contrast, Central High School, Little Rock's white high school, had a million-dollar building with a large library, new books and equipment, a stadium, and a bakeshop in the cafeteria.
Beals looked forward to attending Central High School, but as the desegregation plan unfolded, white resistance in Little Rock grew. When school started, the White Citizens Council formed to pressure and threaten anyone -- black or white -- who supported the Court's mandate. Arkansas governor Orval Faubus authorized the Arkansas National Guard to prevent the black students from entering the school. On September 23, 1957, Governor Faubus removed the National Guard, and an angry crowd of 1,000 people surrounded the school. The nine black students had to be smuggled out of the building to a waiting car.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower was reluctant to get involved, but when Faubus refused to guarantee the safety of the black students, Eisenhower sent federal troops to Little Rock to escort the students into school.
During the crisis, Beals was assaulted and threatened. "[People yelled] 'get her,' 'kill her,' 'hang her,' 'we got us a nigger' . . . Parents were hitting, parents were throwing things. You would get tripped. People would just walk up and hit you in the face." On one occasion, Beals had acid sprayed in her eyes by a white student. After President Eisenhower sent in troops to force desegregation, Beals remembered her emotions: "There was a feeling of pride and hope that yes, this is the United States; yes, there is a reason I salute the flag."
Faubus never conceded, and the federal troops guarded the nine students for the rest of the year. The following year, Faubus retaliated by closing the schools.
What reasons did Melba Patillo Beals give for wanting to go to Central High School?
Why did white students oppose admitting her and other black students to the school?
Describe Beals's experiences on these three days: the first day she went with her mother to the school; the first time she was allowed inside the school; and the next time she went to school, with the 101st Airborne Division escort.
What was the long-term impact of Beals's experience at Central High School?