In 1954, the Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that segregated schools were unconstitutional. In 1955, the Court reaffirmed the ruling, saying schools must be integrated "with all deliberate speed." But by 1957, many southern schools remained segregated.
Little Rock, Arkansas, seemed moderate compared to much of the South. Buses and parks were already integrated. There were black police officers and a few integrated neighborhoods, and a decade before the Voting Rights Act, a third of Little Rock's black population was registered to vote. Although much of Little Rock was still segregated, its white school board was the first in the South to comply with the Court's 1955 mandate to integrate schools.
The school board, worried about the impact of sudden change, made plans to desegregate its schools gradually over six years. The black community was frustrated that integration would take so long. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) filed suit for immediate integration, but, in the meantime, white resistance was mounting.
By September 1957, 9 of the 75 black students who signed up were chosen to attend Central High School. But the night before school started, Governor Faubus announced on statewide television that "Blood will run in the streets if Negro pupils should attempt to enter Central High School," and ordered 250 Arkansas National Guardsmen to maintain order and allow only white students to enter the school.
The governor's actions shocked the people of Little Rock. He had been neutral on civil rights and even garnered support from the black community. However, the governor was also running for re-election and admitted that he needed the segregationists' vote.
Until then, President Eisenhower had been reluctant to get involved; but when an angry mob and the National Guard prevented the black students from attending school -- and when Faubus refused to guarantee their safety -- the president ordered 350 federal troops to restore order at Central High School. Faubus never conceded, and the 101st Airborne Division guarded the "Little Rock Nine" until the last day of school.
The following year, Faubus retaliated by closing the Little Rock's schools. He was re-elected to his third term as governor by an overwhelming majority.
Why was President Eisenhower reluctant to endorse the Supreme Court decision outlawing school desegregation?
What do you think Eisenhower meant by the phrase, "be patient without being complacent"?
What caused President Eisenhower to send federal troops into Little Rock?
In a letter to a friend, President Eisenhower wrote, "My main interest is not in the desegregation question." What was Eisenhower's principal concern in Little Rock?