49 years ago today, September 4, 1957, Elizabeth Eckford was blocked from becoming the first black student at Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. The Governor of Arkansas, Orval Faubus, called out the National Guard to block the school and on September 24, 1957, President Eisenhower sent in federal troops to enforce the law.
I was 11 years old at the time growing up in Brockport NY and feeling scared that I was living in a country where such hatred existed solely because of the color of a person's skin.
Terrorism was alive and well in the South in those days with blacks being killed along with white civil rights workers. This country has an ugly past which we should not forget as we attempt to intervene around the world. There are brave and courageous people among us who fight for justice which often are overlooked by history and from whose courage and sacrifices millions of people now benefit.
On 4th September, 1957, Elizabeth Eckford and eight other African American students attempted to enter Little Rock Central High School, a school that previously had only accepted white children. The governor of Arkansas, Orval Faubus, was determined to ensure that segregation did not take place and sent the National Guard to stop the children from entering the school.
On 24th September, 1957, President Dwight Eisenhower, went on television and told the American people: "At a time when we face grave situations abroad because of the hatred that communism bears towards a system of government based on human rights, it would be difficult to exaggerate the harm that is being done to the prestige and influence and indeed to the safety of our nation and the world. Our enemies are gloating over this incident and using it everywhere to misrepresent our whole nation. We are portrayed as a violator of those standards which the peoples of the world united to proclaim in the Charter of the United Nations."
After trying for eighteen days to persuade Orval Faubus to obey the ruling of the Supreme Court, Eisenhower decided to send federal troops to Arkansas to ensure that black children could go to Little Rock Central High School. The white population of Little Rock were furious that they were being forced to integrate their school and Faubus described the federal troops as an army of occupation. Elizabeth Eckford and the eight other African American children at the school suffered physical violence and constant racial abuse. Parents of four of the children lost their jobs because they had insisted in sending them to a white school. Eventually Orvel Faubus decided to close down all the schools in Little Rock.
For more information, click on the link below.
Link: Elizabeth Eckford.