Can you imagine armed troops escorting you to school? On September 24, 1957, President Dwight Eisenhower ordered the U.S. military to escort nine black students, the “Little Rock Nine,” to class at the previously all-white Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas.
Arkansas public schools had remained segregated by race despite the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education that racially segregated schools were inherently unequal and thus prohibited by the U.S. Constitution. The Little Rock Nine were chosen from among other African American volunteers to integrate Central High School.
“They showed an entire country the essence of what was right.”
When Arkansas state authorities blocked the Black students’ attendence at Central High, President Eisenhower declared, “The Supreme Court has spoken and I am sworn to uphold the constitutional processes in this country.” His dispatch of troops to escort the Little Rock Nine to class followed.
Historian Taylor Branch says the real significance of September 24, 1957, was that it “showed that state politicians couldn’t ultimately defy federal courts. If the president hadn’t sent troops in, the Constitution would have become whatever each governor wanted it to be.”
Marking the 50th anniversary of the Little Rock Nine in 2007, Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe said the students taught “a lesson for the ages. They met chaos with dignity far beyond their teenage years. They brushed away threats with determined conviction. In the face of so much that was wrong, they showed an entire country the essence of what was right.”