The Events of Little Rock Nine

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Updated: Mar 28, 2022
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Through United States history, there have been many significant events that shaped America into the country that we live in today. Among all of the historic events in American history, the Little Rock Nine integration began a new era for civil rights around the country and demonstrated the power of widespread media by capturing the violence and struggles that the African American students endured.

The supreme court case Brown vs. Board of Education (1954), which ended Plessy vs. Ferguson’s (1896) “separate but equal” ruling, was the only event that acknowledged the segregation crisis in America prior to the events of Little Rock Nine.

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The case ruled segregation in schools unconstitutional by the 14th amendment, which states citizens cannot be deprived of life, liberty, or property. The next year, Rosa Parks initiated the Montgomery bus boycott when she was arrested for not giving up her seat to a white man on a public bus. Although the event did not directly bring attention to segregation in schools, it brought attention to segregation within public areas. This ultimately led to the attempted desegregation of schools, starting with Little Rock Central High School in 1957.

The nine students who applied and attempted integration to Little Rock Central High School were unaware of the impact their contributions would have on the future of America’s school systems. Carlotta Walls, one of nine students who applied to Little Rock Central High School, said that her reasoning for applying was that she “wanted the best education available.” However, admission may have been the easiest part. On their first day of school, a group of Arkansas’ citizens and the National Guard of Arkansas blocked the entrance of the school for the African American students, despite the supreme court ruling three years prior. The group of citizens shouted racist slurs and chants such as “two, four, six, eight, we ain’t gonna integrate.” Elizabeth Eckford, a 15 year old African American who was another one of the nine students, turned away from the school by the national guard with guns at the ready, and received death threats. The situation, captured by heavy media presence, allowed people nationwide to watch the situation unfold which played a crucial part in the spread of awareness for the Civil Rights Movement. Alvin Tillery, a historian who teaches political sciences at Northwestern University, says “Eckford being threatened, harassed, spat on, and her calm resistance became an iconic symbol of the civil rights movement.”

On September 23rd, the students finally entered the school for the first time, but throughout the day journalists were attacked and the students were forced to leave the school grounds early, fearing for their safety. The students were met with more name calling (racial slurs), given unfair grades, and experienced bullying in the school. Eckford, recalling the traumatic events of her high school experience, said “[she] was afraid for [her] life.” After heavy media presence, President Dwight D. Eisenhower took action. The involvement of the President to defend the constitution and demonstrate support towards the civil rights movement made an even bigger impact in the integration process. Eisenhower wrote in a telegram to Orval Faubus, the Governor of Arkansas, that “the federal constitution will be upheld by every legal means at [his] command.” In a televised speech to the nation, Eisenhower stated that “Mob rule cannot be allowed to override the decisions of the courts” on the 24th of September. Eisenhower then sent 1,200 soldiers from the United State Army’s 101st airborne division to protect the students and the school grounds. Eisenhower’s plan helped the students enter the school more easily, but there were flaws. For example, the soldiers were not allowed into bathrooms, locker rooms, or classrooms where most of the bullying and harassment occurred.

Ernest Green, became the first African American student to graduate from Little Rock Central High School and often gets overlooked within the Little Rock crisis. Green’s graduation meant a successful integration process allowing Green to proceed to Michigan State University where he attended College. Martin Luther King Jr., one of the most notable civil rights activists, attended Green’s high school graduation ceremony. Green’s graduation almost goes unnoticed, but “The Ernest Green Story,” a movie made for television by Disney in 1993, serves as an educational resource for students and adults to learn even more about what the integration process. The production was mostly filmed at Little Rock Central High School which makes the movie authentic and realistic. The movie, televised nationwide beginning with a message from Bill Clinton, earned a Peabody Award for its educational value in teaching about the civil rights movement.

The students of Little Rock Nine began a new era for the civil rights movement, ultimately helping spread awareness and commencing a string of several impactful events. First, schools and universities across the country began to desegregate, starting with public schools in New Orleans in 1960 and then universities such as Georgia Tech and University of Georgia in 1961. Next, the infamous March on Washington in 1963, which included Martin Luther King Jr’s. iconic “I have a dream” speech. The next year, Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act which made it unlawful to discriminate for public jobs. Later in 1964, King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his dynamic contributions and leadership in the movement.

Although there were positives in the spread of awareness in the civil rights movement, there were many negative events that followed the events of Little Rock Nine that tried and failed to drive fear into the members and followers of the civil rights movement such as the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Kennedy had been an active figure in leading the civil rights movement and his death was detrimental to the movement, but failed to stop the movement as Johnson, Kennedy’s predecessor, seamlessly continued his work afterwards. Later that year, the Birmingham bombing occurred. This came only about 2 weeks after King’s March on Washington The bombing killed four young African American girls at a local church in Birmingham, Alabama. The bombing, as described by Martin Luther King Jr., “was one of the most vicious and tragic crimes ever perpetrated against humanity.” It failed to halt the progress that the movement made and actually caused the movement to grow even stronger as it added to support for the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Perhaps the most violent event within the movement to this date would be the Watts Riots that occurred in 1965. The riots were caused by relations between white police officers and african american citizens feeling discriminated against. The riots lasted six days and cost about $40 million dollars in property damage. There were 34 deaths during the pandemonium.

The events of Little Rock Nine illustrated the commitment from various citizens of the United States to end segregation in schools, public places, and ultimately America as a whole. The combination certain Presidents’ actions towards supporting the movement, media presence covering the violence that occurred on the school grounds, and the students that demonstrated perseverance in what seemed like an inevitable cause all played parts in the progress that civil rights has made to this day. It was the first event that could be displayed on television sets nationwide to watch and learn about current events happening in that time.

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The Events of Little Rock Nine. (2021, Apr 05). Retrieved from