When state and local authorities fail to uphold the Federal Court orders for integration at Central High School, President Dwight D. Eisenhower sent in federal troops to enforce those orders.
Judgment, Brown v. Board of Education (1955-05-31) by National Archives and Records AdministrationU.S. National Archives
Brown v. Board of Education
On May 14, 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka that segregated schools were "inherently unequal". The next year in Brown II, the high court found that segregation in public schools must end "with all deliberate speed." In response to these rulings, the Little Rock school board worked for three years to formulate a plan to desegregate its public schools. Early in 1957, the board unanimously voted in favor of a plan to integrate the Little Rock schools beginning with the high school. The plan called for the admission of a small number of African-American students to the all-white Central High School for the 1957-58 school year. Seventeen students, all volunteers, were selected based upon their grades. However, as the start of the school year drew near, the number of students had dropped to nine.
National Guard Troops in Front of Central High School (1957-09) by William J. Clinton Presidential Library and MuseumU.S. National Archives
September 2, 1957. 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 the 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.
President Eisenhower and Governor Faubus Meet
During these early days of September, President Eisenhower and Governor Faubus exchanged telegrams attempting to resolve the situation. The President frequently consulted with Attorney General Herbert Brownell. On September 9, Federal Judge Ronald N. Davies set a court date for Governor Faubus to appear on September 20. In an effort to end the situation, President Eisenhower agreed to meet with Governor Faubus on September 14 in Newport, Rhode Island, where he and Mrs. Eisenhower were vacationing. Despite Attorney General Brownell's opposition, President Eisenhower met with Governor Faubus at a meeting that was arranged by Arkansas Congressman Brooks Hays. For the first 20 minutes, the President and Governor Faubus talked alone in Eisenhower's tiny office at the Naval Station at Newport. Adjourning to a larger outer office, the two men were joined by Assistant to the President Sherman Adams, Congressman Hays, and Attorney General Brownell.
Press Release, Statements by President Eisenhower and Governor Faubus Press Release, Statements by President Eisenhower and Governor Faubus (1957-09-14/1957-09-14) by Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum of the National Archives and Records AdministrationU.S. National Archives
At a Standstill
Governor Faubus indicated to all present that he would change the orders of the National Guard. President Eisenhower and Governor Faubus issued statements in which both expressed satisfaction that progress had been made toward implementation of the U.S. District Court orders. Yet in spite of this, the orders of the National Guard remained unchanged until the Governor appeared in court on September 20.
Telegram, Mayor Mann, Mayor of Little Rock, to President Eisenhower Telegram, Mayor Mann, Mayor of Little Rock, to President Eisenhower (1957-09-23/1957-09-23) by Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum of the National Archives and Records AdministrationU.S. National Archives
September 20, 1957. Federal Judge Davies ordered Governor Faubus to cease barring integration; Faubus announced the withdrawal of the National Guard. September 23 was marked by mob riots in Little Rock when the crowd learned the nine students were inside the high school. Little Rock Mayor Woodrow Wilson Mann asked President Eisenhower to intervene and Eisenhower issued a proclamation providing the legal justification for military intervention.
President Eisenhower Sends Army Troops
September 24, 1957. Mob violence continued. Eisenhower ordered the dispatch of troops to uphold the law and addressed the nation. On September 25, protected by 1,000 members of the 101st Airborne Division of the U.S. Army and the now federalized National Guard, the nine students attended their first full day of classes. By November 15, federal troops were withdrawn and the National Guard took full control of the Central High School area.
Telegram from the Parents of the Little Rock Nine to President Eisenhower Telegram from the Parents of the Little Rock Nine to President Eisenhower (1957-10-01/1957-10-01) by Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum of the National Archives and Records AdministrationU.S. National Archives
Despite challenges and defiance to the authority of the Supreme Court and federal district court in ordering an end to segregation, the court rulings were upheld in Little Rock by President Eisenhower's decision to send federal troops. As a result, Central High School was integrated. On June 3, 1958, Ernest Green became the first African-American to graduate from Little Rock's Central High School. The impact of the events in Little Rock was profound: it showed that African-American citizens could expect their Constitutional rights to be upheld in the courts and it exposed the extent to which opponents would defy the law to deny those rights.
Opening the Doors
September 25, 1997. President Clinton, Governor Mike Huckabee, Mayor Jim Dailey, and the Little Rock Nine participated in the 40th Anniversary of the desegregation of Little Rock Central High School. President Clinton met the nine African American students in a ceremony on the front steps of the school. After his speech, he opened the doors to Central High for the Little Rock Nine, who in 1957 had been barred. In 40 years, there have been many changes at Central High School and in Little Rock. While the school remains one of the leading educational centers of middle America, the city of Little Rock has continued to work toward healing the pain of 1957-1958.
A National Historic Site
On November 6, 1998, President Clinton signed a bill designating Little Rock Central High School a National Historic Site. In his remarks, President Clinton said, "Because of them, Central High has become a hallowed place, a place every bit as sacred as Gettysburg and Independence Hall. Interestingly enough, back in the 1920's, it was voted the most beautiful school in America." The bill allowed the National Park Service to work with the community in preserving and protecting Little Rock Central High's beautiful building.
The Congressional Gold Medal
The Congressional Gold Medal is the highest civilian honor that the United States Congress can bestow. The first Congressional Gold Medal was awarded to George Washington on March 25, 1776. On November 9, 1999, at the White House, President Clinton awarded the Little Rock Nine the Congressional Gold Medal. It was the first Congressional Gold Medal Ceremony to be held at the White House during the Clinton administration. The Congressional Gold Medal ceremonies are usually held at the House of Representatives. However, due to the relationship between the Little Rock Nine and President Clinton everyone concerned agreed to hold the ceremony at the White House.
Little Rock Central High School Today
Little Rock Central High School has come a long way since 1957. It is a national emblem of the struggle over school desegregation. Much has changed at the school and in Little Rock. The city of Little Rock and Central High have continued to work towards healing the pain of the 1957-58 events. Today it has a diverse student body and faculty and has one of the best records for academic excellence in the state of Arkansas.
Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum http://eisenhower.archives.gov/
William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum http://clintonlibrary.gov/
The Presidential Timeline http://presidentialtimeline.org