The “Little Rock Nine,” nine Black students who successfully integrated the all-White Central High School in Little Rock, Ark., remain a stellar example of the importance of standing up for what’s right. It took the determined efforts of this pioneering group and a presidential order to defy a sitting governor who refused to obey the law.
Earlier in 1957, the United States Supreme Court ruled that segregation was unconstitutional in the historic Brown V. Board of Education case. This set the stage for the NAACP and other groups to integrate all-White public schools, especially those in the south. The group enrolled nine students – Ernest Green, Elizabeth Eckford, Jefferson Thomas, Terrence Roberts, Carlotta Walls LaNier, Minnijean Brown, Gloria Ray Karlmark, Thelma Mothershed, and Melba Pattillo Beals.
Then-governor Orval Faubus was furious at the notion that Black students would integrate the school, and ordered the state’s National Guard to block the students from entering. On September 4, 1957, the soldiers barred the students as segregationist Whites hurled racist insults at them. The images of the “Crisis At Central High” made national headlines and raised concerns among civil rights advocates. On September 24, 1957 President Dwight D. Eisenhower demanded that Gov. Faubus stand down and ordered a federal takeover of the military.
Eisenhower also ordered Army soldiers to escort the children to class, angering many who fought bitterly against integration. The students endured a year of hardship and abuse, including one of the students having acid thrown into her eyes and another almost set on fire. Brown eventually transferred to a school in New York.