55 Years Ago

 

 

Little Rock Central High School will join the National Park Service this week in commemorating the 1957 desegregation of the school.  The campus, considered one of the most beautiful in the country at the time, gained national attention 55 years ago, when nine black students who became known as “The Little Rock Nine,” integrated the school, launching it and them into the center of the Civil Rights Movement. 

 

One of the most important events during the Civil Rights Movement occurred on September 24, 1957 when President Eisenhower ordered the 101st Airborne Division of the United States Army to Little Rock to escort the nine courageous students through the doors of Little Rock Central High.

 

The following is taken from the Oct. 3, 1957 issue of The Tiger, Central High's bi-weekly newspaper.

"I am here to execute the President's orders. My men are well trained and determined to carry out orders," said General Edward A. Walker, chief of the Arkansas Military District, to the student body at a special assembly September 24.

General Walker explained that the Supreme Court order banning segregation, issued in 1955, left up to state and local communities the process of determining how to integrate and how quickly. The Little Rock School Board presented its plan of gradual integration to the federal district court, which gave the solution its approval. Therefore, this integration plan became the law that must be executed.

"You are well intentioned, law-abiding citizens. You need not be afraid of the soldiers," remarked General Walk, "as they will not interfere with the school or its plans." He concluded that those interfering, loitering, or attempting to assemble in large groups would be removed and subject to laws of the city. Soldiers will not bother law-abiding citizens and the only thing that they expect of students and Little Rock residents is co-operation for the benefit of all.

In response to the general's plea, President Ralph Brodie reminded everyone, "Central High students are proud of their athletic and scholastic records. We will be and are good citizens."

Ernest Green was the first black student to graduate from Central in 1958.  The group lost one of its members in 2010 when Jefferson Thomas died at the age of 67.

Commemoration events continue tonight with 44 Plays for 44 Presidents, a LR Central High production, playing at the Rep, and tomorrow with a ceremony honoring Little Rock Nine and film screening of Sing Your Song: The Music, Hope and Vision of a Man and an Era with Harry Belafonte at the Argenta Community Theater, 405 Main St, 6 pm.  See the National Park Service website, www.nps.gov/chsc/  for additional information. "Please, God, let me learn how to stop being a warrior. Sometimes I just need to be a girl."

 

 - Melba Patillo Beals

Little Rock Nine

Author of Warriors Don't Cry