Who Were the Little Rock Nine? - Names & Quotes

Instructor: Ivy Roberts

Ivy Roberts is an adjunct instructor in English, film/media studies and interdisciplinary studies.

This lesson explores the battle to end racial segregation in schools symbolized by the Little Rock Nine. We will learn about the Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education decision and the role of the NAACP.

The Fight for Educational Equality

Would you rather get a below-average education at a local school or spend hours commuting to better facilities in another district, even if it has a discriminatory culture against outsiders? This was a decision posed to the Little Rock Nine, a group of nine African American students from Horace Mann High, who chose to enroll in the all-white Central High. Their brave experiment became a milestone that launched school desegregation in the United States.

The Supreme Court decided that the segregation of schools (educating black and white children separately) was unconstitutional. This decision is known as Brown v. Board of Education (1954). Thurgood Marshall of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) argued the case: 'It follows that with education, this Court has made segregation and inequality equivalent concepts…If segregation thus necessarily imports inequality, it makes no great difference whether we say that the Negro is wronged because he is segregated, or that he is wronged because he received unequal treatment.'

School Segregation Protest
school segregation protest

This lesson explores the history of school desegregation through the words of those who participated in the 1950s debate over educational equality.

Nine Brave Volunteers

The desegregation of American primary and secondary schools did not happen immediately. Years after the Supreme Court had ruled it unconstitutional, state and local governments were still dragging their feet. The first steps were taken by Daisy Bates, president of the Arkansas chapter of the NAACP. 'Daisy Bates was the poster child of black resistance. She was a quarterback, the coach. We were the players,' says Ernest Green.

In line with the organization's mission to defend minority rights and end racial injustice, Bates recruited a group of African American students to be the first to transfer to the all-white school on the other side of town. These students became known as the Little Rock Nine:

  • Ernest Green (b. 1941)
  • Elizabeth Eckford (b. 1941)
  • Jefferson Thomas (1942-2010)
  • Terrence Roberts (b. 1941)
  • Carlotta Walls LaNier (b. 1942)
  • Minnijean Brown (b. 1941)
  • Gloria Ray Karlmark (b. 1942)
  • Thelma Mothershed (b. 1940)
  • Melba Pattillo Beals (b. 1941)

Contemplating her experience that year, Beals reminisced: 'I sometimes wish I could change myself into a psychiatrist to determine what makes me such a hated member of this school. Can they really be treating me this way simply because I am brown, that's all?'

The Blockade

On the first day of school in September, 1957, Governor Orval Faubus organized a blockade at Central High to keep the Little Rock Nine from entering. A week earlier, Faubus had given a speech condemning the NAACP for their 'forcible integration of the public schools of Little Rock against the overwhelming sentiment of the people of the area.' Distinguishing between the gradual at-will integration of universities, sports and government and the 'forcible' actions of the NAACP, Faubus argued that they would 'bring about widespread disorder and violence.' As a pre-emptive measure, Faubus called the National Guard to maintain order for fear that the mob would turn into a bloody riot.

Governor Faubus delivers a speech in front of Central High in September, 1957

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