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The Little Rock Nine: Facts & History

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  • 0:04 Post-Civil War &…
  • 1:11 Brown v. Board of Education
  • 2:33 Little Rock Nine
  • 4:36 National Attention
  • 5:40 Aftermath & Legacy
  • 6:18 Lesson Summary
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Instructor: Molly Richards

Molly has ten years of middle school teaching experience and two master's degrees in teaching.

In 1954, the belief of 'separate but equal,' which allowed for racial segregation in public schools, was found to be unconstitutional. In 1957, after public schools were desegregated, nine black students attempted to enter a formerly all-white school and changed history when they continued to fight for equality.

Post-Civil War & Reconstruction

From 1861-1865, the Northern and Southern United States of America engaged in the Civil War, a bloody and deadly war over slavery and other divisive issues. After the war, the United States Congress passed the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments which abolished slavery, granted citizenship for all people regardless of race, and gave African Americans the right to vote, respectively. While all these things sounded good for the newly freed blacks, it was not as easy as it sounded to gain full equality.

First, the people of the South were not willing to simply change their minds about their feelings towards blacks. Second, as with all constitutional amendments, there were many loopholes that allowed the South to still make blacks feel inferior to whites. Whites used fear, as well as poll taxes and literacy tests, to keep blacks out of voting booths and they got away with physically harming blacks that stood up to them. It would be almost 100 years later before blacks gained full civil rights in this country. The Little Rock Nine had a huge part in this.

Brown v. Board of Education

In 1896, a court case called Plessy v. Ferguson decided that 'separate but equal' facilities for blacks and whites were perfectly legal. Except they were not equal. Black schools had few supplies, horrible facilities, and few resources. It was not until 1954 that the Supreme Court overturned that precedent with a landmark court case called Brown v. Board of Education. The Supreme Court issued a statement that 'separate but equal' violated the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment and was therefore illegal. States were to start desegregating, ending the separation of blacks and whites in schools.

As easy as that sounds, again many blacks feared the deep-seeded racism of southern whites. They were scared into staying at their own schools by angry white parents, teachers, and groups such as the Ku Klux Klan. In fact, the widespread refusal of states to begin integration caused the Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (2) in 1955 to give specific directions for implementation of the initial case, with Chief Justice Warren telling local school authorities to comply 'with all deliberate speed.' It would still be two years after that mandate that a brave group of nine students volunteered to be the first.

Little Rock Nine

Encouraged by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, or the NAACP, nine black students registered at Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. Minnijean Brown, Elizabeth Eckford, Ernest Green, Thelma Mothershed, Melba Patillo, Gloria Ray, Terrence Roberts, Jefferson Thomas, and Carlotta Walls were the nine brave students recruited by NAACP Arkansas chapter president Daisy Bates. In the weeks prior to school, the students were counseled on how to deal with the kind of hatred and racism they would most likely receive once inside the school.

But their trouble began even before school. Orval Faubus was governor of Arkansas at the time and a staunch racist. He wanted no blacks in any white school and would stop at nothing to make sure the Little Rock Nine never entered the building. On September 2, 1957, Faubus announced that he was calling in the Arkansas National Guard to prevent the students from entering the school (for their own good, of course). This was in direct defiance of a court order from Judge Richard Davies. But on September 4, 1957, the students still arrived. Nothing could have prepared them for what they were met with.

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