Did You Know the Little Rock Nine Attempted to Integrate Central High School on This Day?

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This Day In History: September 4th

The first day of high school can easily bring out a variety of emotions in teenagers. However, being tasked with the responsibility of integrating a school for the first time is bound to heighten those emotions. On September 4, 1957, nine teens from Little Rock, Arkansas held this responsibility and set the stage for academic integration.

The Little Rock Nine consisted of Minnijean Brown, Terrance Roberts, Elizabeth Eckford, Ernest Green, Thelma Mothershed, Melba Patillo, Gloria Ray, Jefferson Thomas, and Carlotta Walls. The students were met with chants such as “Two, four, six, eight, we ain’t gonna integrate” while they attempted to enter the doors of Central High School.

Just three years before the Little Rock Nine set out to integrate Little Rock Public Schools, the Supreme Court decided that racial segregation in educational facilities is unconstitutional. Despite the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, many school districts continued to hold on to their segregationist policies. 

Little Rock’s school board planned to voluntarily desegregate its schools, but the decision was met with pushback from local residents and even the state’s Governor, Orval Faubus. To block the students from integrating the school, Faubus enlisted the National Guard. In addition to the National Guard, the students also had to deal with an angry mob of 400 people who were booing and threatening their lives.

Due to the threats, the students had to retreat to their homes and were unable to enter the school. This did not deter them from pursuing integration, but a power above Governor Faubus was needed to ensure the students’ safety. The actions that took place in Little Rock were the first of their kind and even Martin Luther King Jr. stepped in to urge President Dwight Eisenhower to get involved.

A federal judge ordered the National Guard to stand down and President Eisenhower sent troops from the Army’s 101st Airborne unit to escort the students into the school nearly three weeks after their initial attempt. 

Although the students were finally able to enter the school, they still had to deal with being harassed and threatened on a daily basis. The bravery displayed by the nine students became a symbol of integration for other school districts to follow. 

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