September 25, 2017, marks 60 years since the "Little Rock Nine", a group of African American students managed to gain access to the all-white Central High School in Arkansas. It was a landmark moment in the civil-rights movement to obtain equal treatment for all citizens, irrespective of colour.
In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled in the Brown vs Board of Education case that separate schools were inherently prejudicial to black students, and that all schools should be integrated.
Some states and school districts obeyed the decision, going as far as bussing children to schools farther from their homes in order to create a racial mix.
In other places, the authorities brought in new rules which were segregation in all but name, or quite simply ignored the Brown ruling.
In 1957, civil-rights activists at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) decided to try to enforce the rights to equal education.
Little Rock, Arkansas' state capital, still practised segregation. The NAACP recruited nine brave students to enrol at the school.
Enraged parents demonstrated and objected to the Nine's admission before the school year started. So, on the first day of school, 4 September, Governor Orval Faubus, ordered the Arkansas National Guard to surround the school in order to keep the peace. The soldiers simply turned the Nine away.
The NAACP got a court order demanding access. On 23 September the students actually got into the building but were promptly smuggled out the back as more than a thousand demonstrators got more and more agitated outside.
TV cameras were flashing images around the world of nine quiet, inoffensive students being screamed at by middle-aged, church-going white parents protected by the troops. President Eisenhower, urged on by the NAACP and Dr Martin Luther King, had little choice but to call in the Army. On 25 September, Federal troops escorted the Nine into school and they were finally able to start classes.
Once the TV cameras were gone, the black students suffered abuse all through the school year. And the following year, Governor Faubus closed all four high schools in the district rather than integrate them. It took the NAACP 18 months to win a court order forcing the re-opening.
Library of Congress
> Montgomery Bus Boycott: A Victory for Civil Rights
> Happy Birthday, MLK!
> February is Black History Month
> Little Rock School Integration Videos
> African American History on the Web
> Civil Rights: The Montgomery Bus Boycott