Integration legacy looms in Arkansas
Little Rock Nine will help the city to observe 50th anniversary
By Andrew Demillo
Associated Press Writer
LITTLE ROCK — Fifty years after federal troops escorted Terrence Roberts and eight fellow black students into an all-white high school, he says the struggles over race and segregation still are unresolved.
“This country has demonstrated over time that it is not prepared to operate as an integrated society,” said Roberts, a faculty member at Antioch University’s psychology program.
He and the other students known as the Little Rock Nine will help the city observe Central High School’s 50th anniversary this week with a series of events culminating with a ceremony featuring former President Bill Clinton.
For three weeks in September 1957, Little Rock was the focus of a showdown over integration as Gov. Orval Faubus blocked nine black students from enrolling at a high school with about 2,000 white students. Although the U.S. Supreme Court had declared segregated classrooms unconstitutional in 1954 — and the Little Rock School Board had voted to integrate — Faubus said he feared violence if the races mixed in a public school.
The showdown soon became a test for then-President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who sent members of the Army’s 101st Airborne Division in to control the angry crowds. It was the first time in 80 years that federal troops had been sent to a former state of the Confederacy.
50 years later
Yet, half a century later, there are signs of progress and strife in Arkansas’ largest school district, which is now 70 percent black.
A federal judge ruled this year that the 27,000-student district was unitary, or substantially integrated, and ordered the end of federal desegregation monitoring. The school now has a nearby museum for the Little Rock crisis, and statues of the nine brave students stand on the grounds of the state Capitol.
But race still divides the school board, which has a black majority.
In 1957, Roberts, Carlotta Walls LaNier, Melba Patillo Beals, Elizabeth Eckford, Ernest Green, Gloria Ray Karlmark, Jefferson Thomas, Minnijean Brown Trickey and Thelma Mothershed Wair were determined to get a good education.
“I really didn’t understand at 14 we were helping change the educational landscape here in America,” LaNier recalls.
When Faubus pulled Arkansas National Guard members from blocking nine students from entering the school, an inflamed crowd gathered to keep the black students out.
Relman Morin, a reporter standing outside the school at the time, described the chaos as a “human explosion” when the nine students were slipped inside during a melee.
Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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