The story of the Little Rock Nine is a defining moment for activism and moral leadership at the federal level.
In the summer of 1957, the city of Little Rock, Arkansas, made plans to desegregate its public schools.
On September 2, the night before school was to start, Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus called out the state’s National Guard to surround Little Rock Central High School and prevent any black students from entering. His excuse? To protect citizens and property from possible violence by protesters.
A federal judge granted thwarted Faubus’ plans by issuing an injunction against the Governor’s use of National Guard troops to prevent integration. They were withdrawn on September 20.
When school resumed on Monday, September 23, Central High was surrounded by Little Rock policemen. About 1,000 people gathered in front of the school. The police escorted the nine black students to a side door where they quietly entered the building.
When the mob outside learned the blacks had been led inside, they erupted into shouts and began rushing police. Fearful the police would be unable to control the crowd, the school administration moved the black students out a side door before noon.
On September 24, U.S. Congressman Brooks Hays and Little Rock Mayor Woodrow Mann sent a telegram to President Eisenhower, asking for federal help. Esienhower dispatched troops that day. The President also federalized the entire Arkansas National Guard, taking it away from the Governor.
On September 25, 1957, the nine black students entered the school under the protection of 1,000 members of the 101st Airborne Division of the United States Army.