​September 25, 1957: Central High School In Little Rock, Arkansas, Was Integrated

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The ‘Little Rock Nine’ are escorted inside Little Rock Central High School by troops of the 101st Airborne Division of the United States Army.

A TENSE YEAR: By the end of September 1957, the nine were admitted to Little Rock Central High under the protection of the U.S. Army (and later the Arkansas National Guard), but they were still subjected to a year of physical and verbal abuse (being spat on and called names) by many of the white students. 

Melba Pattillo had acid thrown into her eyes and also recalled in her book, Warriors Don’t Cry, an incident in which a group of white girls trapped her in a stall in the girls’ washroom and attempted to burn her alive by dropping pieces of flaming paper on her from above. 

Another one of the students, Minnijean Brown, was verbally confronted and abused. She said: “I was one of the kids ‘approved’ by the school officials. We were told we would have to take a lot and were warned not to fight back if anything happened. One girl ran up to me and said, ‘I’m so glad you’re here. Won’t you go to lunch with me today?” I never saw her again.”

Brown was also taunted by members of a group of white male students in December 1957 in the school cafeteria during lunch. She dropped her lunch—a bowl of chili—onto the boys and was suspended for 6 days. 2 months later, after more confrontation, Brown was suspended for the rest of the school year. She transferred to New Lincoln High School in New York City. 

As depicted in the 1981 made-for-TV docudrama Crisis at Central High, and as mentioned by Melba Pattillo Beals in Warriors Don’t Cry, white students were punished only when their offense was “both egregious and witnessed by an adult”. The drama was based on a book by Elizabeth Huckaby, a vice-principal during the crisis.

LEGACY: ?Little Rock Central High School still functions as part of the Little Rock School District, and is now a National Historic Site that houses a Civil Rights Museum, administered in partnership with the National Park Service, to commemorate the events of 1957.

?In 1958, Cuban poet Nicolás Guillén published “Little Rock”, a bilingual composition in English and Spanish denouncing the racial segregation in the United States. In some verses, the writer used names referring the Little Rock events as qualifying adjectives. 

?Melba Pattillo Beals wrote a memoir titled Warriors Don’t Cry, published in the mid-1990s.

?Two made-for-television movies have depicted the events of the crisis: the 1981 CBS movie Crisis at Central High, and the 1993 Disney Channel movie The Ernest Green Story.

?In 1996, seven of the Little Rock Nine appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show. They came face to face with a few of the white students who had tormented them as well as one student who had befriended them.

?President Bill Clinton honored the Little Rock Nine in November 1999 when he presented them each with a Congressional Gold Medal. The medal is the highest civilian award bestowed by Congress. It is given to those who have provided outstanding service to the country. To receive the Congressional Gold Medal, recipients must be co-sponsored by two-thirds of both the House and Senate.

?In 2007, the United States Mint made available a commemorative silver dollar to “recognize and pay tribute to the strength, the determination and the courage displayed by African-American high school students in the fall of 1957.” The obverse depicts students accompanied by a soldier, with nine stars symbolizing the Little Rock Nine. The reverse depicts an image of Little Rock Central High School, c. 1957. Proceeds from the coin sales are to be used to improve the National Historic Site. On December 9, 2008, the Little Rock Nine were invited to attend the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama, the 1st African-American to be elected President of the United States. 

?On February 9, 2010, Marquette University honored the group by presenting them with the Père Marquette Discovery Award, the university’s highest honor, one that had previously been given to Mother Teresa, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Karl Rahner, and the Apollo 11 astronauts, among other notables.

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