The Little Rock Nine: Everything You Need to Know

This was the first group of black students allowed to gain admission into the Central High in Little Rock, Arkansas, after the Brown ruling. These students enrolled in the school despite the harsh criticism and many threats from the local white community. They were protected by the 101st Airborne Division, which had been assigned to them by President Eisenhower. This triggered a series of chaotic events, the news of which captured the attention of the country.

The Little Rock Nine became the center of the struggle to desegregate public schools in the U.S., particularly in the South. These students were recruited by Daisy Bates, president of the Arkansas branch of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People). Martin Luther King, who was then the president of the Montgomery Improvement Association, wrote to President Eisenhower requesting a speedy resolution to permit these students to attend school.

The initial years that the students spent at Central High were quite tumultuous. This was because the educational standards at white-only schools were much more demanding than what they were accustomed to, and they also faced constant bullying and abuse from their peers and teachers. On the first day of school (September 4, 1957), a white mob assembled in front of the school. In addition, the Arkansas National Guard was deployed by Governor Orval Faubus to prevent the black students from entering the school. To counter Faubus’ action, a team of NAACP lawyers won a federal district court injunction, which prevented the governor from blocking the students’ entry. On September 23, 1957, the students entered the school using a side entrance with the help of police escorts. However, fearing rising mob violence, they were sent home soon afterward. The Little Rock incident was becoming an international embarrassment, which Eisenhower realized. As a result, he reluctantly ordered troops from the 101st Airborne Division to protect the students. The Little Rock Nine was shielded by federal troops as well as the Arkansas National Guard for the rest of the school year.

Despite all these incidents, the courage of these students did not break. They continued to bear their oppression and faced their education with all diligence and perseverance. Ernest Green, one of the students, became the first African-American to graduate from Central High. He later worked as the Assistant Secretary of Housing and Urban Affairs under Jimmy Carter. In 1999, he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. 

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