Today in 1957, President Eisenhower sent federal troops to support the integration of Little Rock Central High School.
Ike did his job even though he disagreed with the Supreme Court’s unanimous decision in Brown v. Board of Education. Rather than give into racism, the former general upheld his vow to support and defend the US Constitution.
Woodrow Wilson Mann, the Mayor of Little Rock, also opposed the ruling, but he directed the school board to plan for gradual integration, beginning with nine black students at LRCHS in September 1957.
Governor Orval Faubus dispatched the Arkansas National Guard to stop the Little Rock Nine from entering the school. The Guardsmen did not, however, prevent white mobs from harassing the nine teens and beating Alex Wilson, a black journalist from Memphis.
Mayor Mann requested federal troops to restore order, and Eisenhower — moved by photos of mob violence against Wilson — deployed the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division to escort the Little Rock Nine to school for the next several months.
Elizabeth Eckford and the rest of the Little Rock Nine persevered bravely through a difficult school year.
Mann’s principled course destroyed his political career and forced him to leave the state to earn a living.
Arkansas voters rewarded Faubus for his defiance by re-electing him four more times. The governor closed all high Little Rock high schools for the entire 1958–59 school year to stop integration, while he schemed (unsuccessfully) to route public funds to segregated private schools. In a Gallup poll that year, Faubus ranked as one of the ten most admired people in the US.
But the courage of the Little Rock Nine and other Black heroes won out: The Civil Rights Movement scored a series of stunning political and legal victories over the next dozen years. Several decades of reaction followed, but the gains of the ’50s and ’60s laid a solid foundation for the current surge of on racial justice activism.