In 1957, Nine black students were chosen to integrate a formerly all-white high school in Little Rock, Arkansas. This act of integration was a test to the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case which outlawed the act of segregation. As a result of the landmark decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered all school to integrate and with “all deliberate speed”. On September 4, 1957, the first day of classes at Central High School began. The nine students attempted to integrate the high school when then-Governor Orval Faubus called in the National Guard to block the students from entering. Since the Governor Faunus’s act was in violation of the law, then-U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower responded days later by sending in the U.S. troops to escort the nine students into the school. The nine students: Ernest Green, Elizabeth Eckford, Jefferson Thomas, Terrence Roberts, Carlotta Walls LaNier, Minnijean Brown, Gloria Ray Karlmark, Thelma Mothershed, and Melba Pattillo Beals, began their first day of classes on September 25. Ernest Green was the first black student to graduate from Central High School. He was the lone black student in his graduating class.
The Arkansas board had agreed to gradual integration after the Brown v. Board of Education case and also from pressure from the local chapter of the NAACP. The first institutions would be the high schools, beginning in September of 1957.
The nine students named above were heavily vetted by the president of the Arkansas of NAACP’s Daisy Bates. Ms. Bates also was co-founder of the Arkansas Press, a leading African-American newspaper along with her husband L.C. Bates. After the vetting process, the nine students were chosen based on the belief that they possessed the strength to handle the challenges that lay ahead. Before entering the high school, the students were counseled in sessions of what to expect on their first day of classes or in hostile situations.
It was reported that some of the nine students had positive experiences on their first day but throughout the year, violence occurred on a regular basis. Melba Patillo Beals was kicked, beaten and had acid thrown in her face. Other students experienced acts of violence. The Little Rock Nine were even barred from participating in extracurricular activities.
Governor Faubus had made several requests for the nine students to be removed from the school. He closed the school for the entire school. During the period of the school closing, a vote was taken to prevent black students from attending the school. The vote resulted in a count of 19,470 to 7,561 by Little Rock citizens against integration. The school remained closed. The school reopened in August 1959.
Ernest Green, who was the oldest of the Little Rock Nine and the first to graduate, worked as assistant secretary of the federal Department of Labor under President Jimmy Carter. Brown worked as deputy assistant secretary for work force diversity in the Department of the Interior under President Bill Clinton. Melba Patella Beals worked as a reporter for NBC. Patella Beals also wrote a book titled Warriors Don’t Cry about her experience integrating Central High School as a member of the Little Rock Nine.
In 1999, President Bill Clinton (himself from Little Rock, Arkansas) awarded each member of the Little Rock Nine a Congressional Gold Medal. All nine members received invitations to Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009. Jefferson Thomas was the first member of the Little Rock Nine to die. He succumbed to pancreatic cancer in 2010. Thomas served in the U.S. Army in Vietnam, received a degree in business and worked as an accountant for private company and worked wth the Department of Defense.
Source: Little Rock Nine – History.com