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Although most school districts at least attempted to integrate, some districts tried to avoid it, particularly those in the South. One of the most famous cases of integration was the story of the Little Rock Nine, which took place in Little Rock, Arkansas. Governor Orval Faubus had the National Guard block nine black students from entering Central High in Little Rock because he didnít want to integrate Little Rockís schools. President Eisenhower heard of this and sent Federal Troops to protect the nine black students.
Fighting Back Against Faubus
On September 20, 1957, Judge Ronald N. Davies granted the NAACP lawyers, Thurgood Marshall and Wiley Branton, the right to stop Governor Faubus from using the National Guard to stop the students from entering the high school. Governor Faubus finally agreed with them about not using the National Guard, but he wished the nine would stay away from Central High until integration could occur without violence. He knew there would be violence because of the violence last time when the Whites beat the Blacks because they didn't want African-American kids in their school.
Off to School
On Monday, September 23, 1957, the nine students set off for the high school. They knew there would be violence so they went in the rear entrance. White mobs were there to protest because they didnít want any Blacks in their school and the reporters were there in support of the Blacks. White mobs that were waiting for the nine students beat up black reporters because they didnít want them near their school. When the mob heard the nine students had entered the school they went crazy. The black students left out the rear exit right when the mob came in so they wouldnít get hurt.
To make sure that the students completed a successful day of school, President Eisenhower sent the 101st Airborne Division to Little Rock. Each student had their own patroller to walk with them to school and during school, but Whites still beat them. They stabbed Melba Patillo and sprayed acid into her eyes. If it werenít for the 101st patroller throwing water over her eyes she would have been blind for the rest of her life.
After a few weeks, the patrollers left and the nine students had to protect themselves. Finally Christmas came around and the Blacks wanted to get away from the Whites. Eight of the nine students couldnít be happier to get a break from school, but not Minnijean Brown. She was suspended for dumping her lunch on two white males because they were insulting her. The Whites told the press that they didnít blame her for getting mad. She was suspended for 6 days. Then she was suspended again for calling a white girl, "White Trash." None of the Whites were suspended.
Faubus Fights Again
The other eight all finished the school year successfully, and Earnest Green Graduated that spring. He was the first black student ever to graduate from Central High.
Although Earnest Green graduated, segregationists in Arkansas wanted to stop the other seven remaining students from doing the same. The school board asked for an injunction delaying integration until 1961. Even though the injunction was granted at first, the U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals said no to the injunction in August of 1958. The court told Little Rock it must integrate.
Governor Faubus had other plans. He signed a package of segregation bills that were passed by the Arkansas legislature, including a bill that granted him the power to shut down the Little Rock Public High Schools.
Just a few weeks later, the parents of the nine black students came under tremendous pressure. The families either were forced to resign from their jobs or were fired because of what was happening at the school. One of the families moved away. The five students that remained in Little Rock took courses from the University of Arkansas while they waited for their school to reopen.
The summer of 1959 came and the act that Governor Faubus had used to shut down the school was declared unconstitutional. Yet again Governor Faubus started to work on another law to take its place. To avoid the law, the school board opened up the school early on August 12, 1959. Only two Blacks that were assigned to Central High were members of the original Little Rock nine, Jefferson Thomas and Carlotta Walls. The other three went to the new Hall High. Both Jefferson Thomas and Carlotta Walls graduated that spring.
This story shows you how hard Whites would work to stop Blacks from integrating and how far Blacks will go until equality is won. Melba Patillo now teaches at Central High School. Forty years ago she was beaten and stabbed. It went so far that she had acid thrown in her eyes. Now she gets hugs from students there, black and white alike. Today, the school is sixty percent black.
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