Today is an important day in the history of education in the United States. Federal courts had ordered the schools of Little Rock to admit nine black students. Crowds of white supremacists gathered to block their entry. On this day, Governor Orval Faunus called up the National Guard to prevent the black students from entering Little Rock’s Central High School.

From Garrison Keillor’s “The Writers’ Almanac”:

It was on this day in 1957 that Arkansas governor Orval Faubus called out the National Guard to bar nine black students from entering Central High School in Little Rock. In response, President Dwight D. Eisenhower sent in the 101st Airborne Division to make sure they could enroll. A few days later, Eisenhower made a prime-time, live televised speech to the nation in which he said, “Mob rule cannot be allowed to override the decisions of our courts.

President Eisenhower proceeded to nationalize the Arkansas National Guard and directed them to protect the nine black students.

From Wikipedia:

By 1957, the NAACP had registered nine black students to attend the previously all-white Little Rock Central High, selected on the criteria of excellent grades and attendance.[2] Called the “Little Rock Nine”, they were Ernest Green (b. 1941), Elizabeth Eckford (b. 1941), Jefferson Thomas (1942–2010), Terrence Roberts (b. 1941), Carlotta Walls LaNier (b. 1942), Minnijean Brown (b. 1941), Gloria Ray Karlmark (b. 1942), Thelma Mothershed (b. 1940), and Melba Pattillo Beals (b. 1941). Ernest Green was the first African American to graduate from Central High School.

When integration began in September 4, 1957, the Arkansas National Guard was called in to “preserve the peace”. Originally at orders of the governor, they were meant to prevent the black students from entering due to claims that there was “imminent danger of tumult, riot and breach of peace” at the integration. However, President Eisenhower issued Executive order 10730, which federalized the Arkansas National Guard and ordered them to support the integration on September 23 of that year, after which they protected the African American students.

The students endured mobs of hateful whites, screaming at them and shouting curses and insults.

White racists soon realized they had lost in the courts, but got their wishes by abandoning public schools and moving to the suburbs.

In time, the Little Rock School District became majority black. Now it is under state control, a fate that is often imposed on majority nonwhite districts, crippling local control and removing a path to political power for those who are not white.

Little Rock will forever be a symbol of white racism and of the courage and political will required to combat racism.