The Little Rock Nine
After the Brown v Board of Education decision declared "separate but equal" segregation unconstitutional, the NAACP attempted to register Black students in previously all-white schools in the South.
In Little Rock, Arkansas, the school board agreed to comply with the court’s ruling with a plan of gradual integration to begin in September 1957.
The NAACP registered 9 Black students to attend the previously all-white Little Rock Central High. Each student was selected on the criteria of excellent grades and attendance. Called the “Little Rock Nine”, they were: Ernest Green, Elizabeth Eckford, Jefferson Thomas, Terrence Roberts, Carlotta Walls LaNier, Minnijean Brown, Gloria Ray Karlmark, Thelma Mothershed, and Melba Pattillo Beals.
When integration was scheduled to begin on September 4, 1957, a large white mob formed outside the school. The governor ordered the Arkansas National Guard to block the school's entrance and not allow the Little Rock 9 to enter on the grounds of “preserving the peace".
The students were forced to go home. Fifteen-year-old Elizabeth Eckford arrived separately and when she attempted to leave, she found herself surrounded by an angry mob threatening to lynch her.
For the next 18 days, President Dwight D. Eisenhower negotiated with the Arkansas governor and mayor of Little Rock. Eventually, President Eisenhower federalized the Guard and ordered them to support integration and protect the students.
With the protection of the soldiers, the nine teenagers were able to attend school at Little Rock Central High beginning on September 23rd. However, over the course of the school year they were subjected to physical and verbal abuse by many of the white students.
Melba Pattillo had acid thrown into her eyes. Another day, a group of white girls trapped her in a stall in the girls' washroom and attempted to burn her by dropping pieces of flaming paper on her from above. Another one of the students, Minnijean Brown, was verbally confronted and abused.
After months of taunting and torment, Minnijean Brown retaliated and was suspended. She moved and completed school in New York City.
All of them eventually graduated and have since been recognized for their significant role in the civil rights movement. In 1999, President Clinton awarded each member of the group the Congressional Gold Medal.
The nine also all received personal invitations to attend the inauguration of President Barack Obama in 2009.