The Little Rock Nine

After the Brown v Board of Education decision, the NAACP attempted to register black students in previously all-white schools in cities throughout 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 of the students 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, the Arkansas National Guard was called in to “preserve the peace.” At orders of the governor, the guard, along with a large white mob, blocked the entrance to the school and would not allow the Little Rock 9 to enter.

For the next 18 days, President Dwight D. Eisenhower negotiated with the Arkansas governor and Little Rock mayor. 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. The nine Black students were subsequently subjected to a year of 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 back 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.

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