Desegregation at Little Rock Central High School

By U.S. National Archives

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.

President Eisenhower with Supreme Court Justices, Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum, Records of the National Park Service, 1953-11, From the collection of: U.S. National Archives
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Letter, U.S. Solicitor General to Assistant to the President, Concerning List of Court Orders and Plans for School Desegregation Letter, U.S. Solicitor General to Assistant to the President, Concerning List of Court Orders and Plans for School Desegregation, Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum of the National Archives and Records Administration, 1957-10-28/1957-10-28, From the collection of: U.S. National Archives
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Attachment to Rankin Letter Listing Court Orders and Plans for School Desegregation Attachment to Rankin Letter Listing Court Orders and Plans for School Desegregation, Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum of the National Archives and Records Administration, 1957-10-28/1957-10-28, From the collection of: U.S. National Archives
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National Guard Troops in Front of Central High School (1957-09) by William J. Clinton Presidential Library and MuseumU.S. National Archives

Barring Entry

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. 

Two Arkansas National Guard Members and Terrence Roberts, William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum, Central High Museum Historical Collections/UALR Archives and Special Collections, 1957-09-04, From the collection of: U.S. National Archives
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Elizabeth Eckford Waits for Bus After Being Denied Entry Into Central High School, Central High Museum Historical Collections/UALR Archives and Special Collections, William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum, 1957-09-03, From the collection of: U.S. National Archives
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Arkansas Governor Orval E. Faubus after his Conference with President Dwight D. Eisenhower (1957-09-14) by Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library and MuseumU.S. National Archives

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 of President Eisenhower's telegram to Governor Faubus, Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum, 1957-09-05, From the collection of: U.S. National Archives
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Telgram from Governor Faubus to President Eisenhower, Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum, 1957-09-12, From the collection of: U.S. National Archives
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President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Arkansas Governor Orval E. Faubus and Arkansas Congressman Brooks Hays, Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum, 1957-09-14, From the collection of: U.S. National Archives
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Arkansas Governor Orval E. Faubus after his Conference with President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum, 1957-09-14, From the collection of: U.S. National Archives
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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.

Notes from Meeting with Governor Faubus, Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum, 1957-09-14, From the collection of: U.S. National Archives
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Edward Clark, 1957-09, From the collection of: LIFE Photo Collection
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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

Mob Riots

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. 

Telephone Calls of President Eisenhower, Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum, 1957-09-24, From the collection of: U.S. National Archives
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Press release, Proclamation 3204, Obstruction of Justice in the State of Arkansas, by the President of the United States of America Press release, Proclamation 3204, Obstruction of Justice in the State of Arkansas, by the President of the United States of America, Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum of the National Archives and Records Administration, 1957-09-23/1957-09-23, From the collection of: U.S. National Archives
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President Dwight D. Eisenhower on the Little Rock Situation (1957-09-24) by Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum of the National Archives and Records AdministrationU.S. National Archives

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, Mayor Mann to President Eisenhower Telegram, Mayor Mann to President Eisenhower, Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum of the National Archives and Records Administration, 1957-09-23/1957-09-23, From the collection of: U.S. National Archives
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President Eisenhower's notes on decision to send troops to Little Rock, Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum of the National Archives and Records Administration, 1957-09, From the collection of: U.S. National Archives
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Draft of President Eisenhower's speech on Little Rock, undated Draft of President Eisenhower's speech on Little Rock, undated, Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum of the National Archives and Records Administration, 1957-09-24/1957-09-24, From the collection of: U.S. National Archives
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President Eisenhower on the Little Rock Situation, Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum, 1957-09-24, From the collection of: U.S. National Archives
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Press release, Executive Order 10730, Providing for the Removal of an Obstruction of Justice Within the State of Arkansas Press release, Executive Order 10730, Providing for the Removal of an Obstruction of Justice Within the State of Arkansas, Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum of the National Archives and Records Administration, 1957-09-24/1957-09-24, From the collection of: U.S. National Archives
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Edward Clark, 1957-09, From the collection of: LIFE Photo Collection
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Edward Clark, 1957-09, From the collection of: LIFE Photo Collection
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George Silk, 1957-09, From the collection of: LIFE Photo Collection
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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

Integration

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.

Letter from President Eisenhower to Little Rock Nine Parent, Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum of the National Archives and Records Administration, 1957-10-04, From the collection of: U.S. National Archives
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President Clinton’s Address to the 40th Anniversary of the Desegregation of Little Rock Central High School (1997-09-25) by William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum of the National Archives and Records AdministrationU.S. National Archives

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.

President Clinton holds the doors open to Little Rock Central High School for the Little Rock Nine, William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum of the National Archives and Records Administration, 1997-09-25, From the collection of: U.S. National Archives
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President Clinton holds open the doors of Little Rock Central High School for Elizabeth Eckford, one of the Little Rock Nine, William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum of the National Archives and Records Administration, 1997-09-25, From the collection of: U.S. National Archives
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President Clinton with the Little Rock Nine during the Little Rock Central High 40th Anniversary Ceremony, William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum of the National Archives and Records Administration, 1997-09-25, From the collection of: U.S. National Archives
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President Clinton’s Address to the 40th Anniversary of the Desegregation of Little Rock Central High School, William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum of the National Archives and Records Administration, 1997-09-25, From the collection of: U.S. National Archives
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Remarks by President Clinton in the Ceremony Commemorating the 40th Anniversary of the Desegregation of Central High School. Remarks by President Clinton in the Ceremony Commemorating the 40th Anniversary of the Desegregation of Central High School., William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum of the National Archives and Records Administration, 1997-09-25, From the collection of: U.S. National Archives
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The Little Rock Nine at the 40th Anniversary of the Desegregation of Central High School, William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum of the National Archives and Records Administration, 1997-09-25, From the collection of: U.S. National Archives
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President Clinton Addresses the Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site Bill Signing Ceremony (1998-11-06) by William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum of the National Archives and Records AdministrationU.S. National Archives

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. 

President Clinton addresses the Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site Bill Signing Ceremony President Clinton addresses the Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site Bill Signing Ceremony, William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum of the National Archives and Records Administration, 1998-11-06, From the collection of: U.S. National Archives
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President Clinton greets six members of the Little Rock Nine in the Oval Office, William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum of the National Archives and Records Administration, 1998-11-06, From the collection of: U.S. National Archives
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Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site Bill Signing Ceremony, William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum of the National Archives and Records Administration, 1998-11-06, From the collection of: U.S. National Archives
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Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site Bill Signing Ceremony, William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum of the National Archives and Records Administration, 1998-11-06, From the collection of: U.S. National Archives
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President Clinton presents the Congressional Gold Medal to the Little Rock Nine (1999-11-09) by William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum of the National Archives and Records AdministrationU.S. National Archives

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.

President Clinton to join members of Congress in presenting Congressional Gold Medals to the members of the Little Rock Nine. President Clinton to join members of Congress in presenting Congressional Gold Medals to the members of the Little Rock Nine., William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum of the National Archives and Records Administration, 1999-11-09, From the collection of: U.S. National Archives
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President Clinton presents the Congressional Gold Medal to the Little Rock Nine, William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum of the National Archives and Records Administration, 1999-11-09, From the collection of: U.S. National Archives
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Congressional Gold Medal Ceremony for the Little Rock Nine, William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum of the National Archives and Records Administration, 1999-11-09, From the collection of: U.S. National Archives
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President Clinton and the Little Rock Nine at the Congressional Gold Medal Ceremony, William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum of the National Archives and Records Administration, 1999-11-09, From the collection of: U.S. National Archives
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Remarks by President Clinton in the Presentation of the Congressional Gold Medal to the Little Rock Nine. Remarks by President Clinton in the Presentation of the Congressional Gold Medal to the Little Rock Nine., William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum of the National Archives and Records Administration, 1999-11-09, From the collection of: U.S. National Archives
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Front view of Little Rock Central High School (2005) by Courtesy of National Park Service, Little Rock Central High School National Historic SiteU.S. National Archives

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.

Credits: Story

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

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