Martin Luther King’s Powerful Impact in Desegregating The Little Rock High School | Teen Ink

Martin Luther King’s Powerful Impact in Desegregating The Little Rock High School

June 15, 2021
By jackpilot GOLD, New York City, New York
jackpilot GOLD, New York City, New York
13 articles 0 photos 3 comments

Favorite Quote:
“Beware; for I am fearless, and therefore powerful.” — Mary Shelley


Desegregation in education was a major goal for civil rights advocates, such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), during the Civil Rights Movement. In 1957, nine African American students were a catalyst for change and equality in the education system when they persisted in attending the all-white Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. Their enrollment was a product of the 1954 Brown Vs. Board of Education Supreme Court case, a hallmark victory for Black Americans that ruled segregation in schools unconstitutional. However, although the court ruling was a giant leap towards equality, it was not immediately effective, and Black Americans still had to face an uphill battle to actually attend predominantly White high schools. When the court case ruled segregation in schools as unconstitutional, there were many attempts at integrating Black students into White schools, but they were unsuccessful due to the court’s lack of clarity on when integration would happen. Three years later, in 1957, the NAACP formed a group of nine students to be the radical stimulus for integration in public schools in Little Rock, Arkansas. However, their attempts were initially futile as Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus, who was pro-segregation, actively prevented the students from attending Central High School and used the ambiguity of the court ruling to delay integration in schools. It wasn’t until Dr. Martin Luther King urged President Eisenhower to get involved did Faubus stand down. Listening to Dr. Martin Luther King, Eisenhower took a stand against the injustice the Little Rock Nine students were facing and ordered army troops to shield the students from the Arkansas National Guard and the federal troops for the remainder of the year. Due to the Supreme Court’s vague outlines as to when exactly integration in schools should happen in the Brown Vs. Board of Education case, coupled with President Eisenhower's lack of urgency to integrate, segregation in schools prolonged. However, because Martin Luther King urged President Eisenhower to take an active stand in Little Rock, the nine African American students were able to attend Central High School. 

 

The 1954 landmark decision in favor of desegregation in schools was not as clear cut as the NAACP would have preferred and left the responsibility to integrate to local school authorities. In Brown Vs. Board of Education, Chief Justice Earl Warren ordered that schools be integrated “with all deliberate speed,” but without a set date, “deliberate speed” would be open to interpretation. Governor Faubus took advantage of this lack of specificity and ordered the Arkansas National Guard to block the Little Rock Nine from attending Central High School.  Not only did “with deliberate speed” cause the delay of desegregation, but it also allowed room for resistance groups to build support and recognition. Before the 1954 Supreme Court ruling, Little Rock was among the more progressive towns in the South. However, as the ruling did not specify a date, pro-segregationists used the time to pressure locals and they believed that Arkansas’ stance on desegregation would influence the stance of other southern states. Because of the lack of clarity as to when integration in schools would happen, segregation was prolonged, which gave the segregationists lots of time to build up their forces. As a result of pressure from segregationists, Little Rock lost sight of the NAACP’s goal to desegregate. In turn, the massive resistance also put pressure on Governor Faubus to resist the nine students from entering Central High School. Motivated by his political commitments to Arkansas segregationists and support in the South, Governor Faubus was convinced to bar the students from entering Central High. Due to the unspecific decision as to when segregation would end, Faubus was able to comply with segregationists while facing little punishment. 

 When Chief Justice Earl Warren announced the unanimous decision to end segregation in school that lacked clarity as to when integration would happen, it conferred responsibility on the school districts and the state, which allowed the court to take a more neutral stance. Oliver J. Hill, a prevalent civil rights attorney, said that in reference to “with all deliberate speed,” that “it was a phrase with built-in ambiguity. And across the South, many school districts took advantage of the ambiguity to take their own sweet time with the order. Some districts in Virginia chose to close their public schools down entirely while funding so-called private academies for white boys and girls.” This firsthand account showcases that the lack of specificity was to the advantage of segregationists, giving them time to form ways to resist desegregation. Also, since the ruling only defined segregation in public schools, it encouraged the opening of more private schools. The Supreme Court’s vague guidance as to when segregation in schools would end, ultimately prolonged segregation within the South, as it conferred power in the states, allowing them to resist African American students from entering schools, and let segregation groups strengthen, who convinced local governments to prevail segregation. As Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall explained, “with all deliberate speed” essentially just meant “slow,” as it allowed for massive resistance to build-up and permitted school boards and local officials to delay integration in public schools.


Eventually, NAACP lawyers won a federal district court injunction to prevent the governor from blocking the students’ entry. However, this did not solve the problem. Once they were escorted by police into the building, they were met with mob violence that was not stopped by the education board. When it came to integrating schools, the NAACP alone was not powerful enough to effect lasting change. As the court injunction was not successfully enforced, people knew that only someone of power in the executive branch could provide the resources to protect the African American students from the massive resistance they were facing from the National Guard of Arkansas and the segregationists in Little Rock. However, President Eisenhower was not concerned with immediate integration and did not take an active stance. When the Brown Vs. Board of Education came to its conclusion in the case, his response to the ruling that defined segregation in schools as unconstitutional was, "The Supreme Court has spoken and I am sworn to uphold the constitutional processes in this country; and I will obey." When President Eisenhower claimed that he will “obey” the court's decision, it highlighted his passiveness to integrate. It displays his stance on racial integration,  as he only “obey[s]” the court's order because he is “sworn to uphold the constitutional process.” This alludes to the fact that if it weren’t for the court’s ruling, he would not have fought for desegregation. Even after the court's ruling, Eisenhower remained Switzerland on racial integration, as he did not want to lose his support in the South. Harvard Law Professor Tomiko Brown-Nagin explains that Eisenhower’s lack of concern affected the prolonged process to integrate schools. Brown-Nagin explained that "Eisenhower’s lack of enthusiasm for Earl Warren’s decision certainly did not help the cause of school desegregation."  President Eisenhower did not take the opportunity to elaborate or comment on “deliberate speed” and did not encourage any urgency with the matter. Eisenhower’s “lack of enthusiasm” highlights his nonexistent care to promptly integrate schools, explaining why he did not take an active role in desegregating schools.

Eisenhower’s lack of urgency also allowed for resistance groups to grow larger, stronger, and delay integration. When pro-segregation groups, such as the Capital Citizens Group and the Mother’s League of Central High School, violently attacked the Little Rock Nine students, Eisenhower defended the groups’ malicious behavior. Eisenhower responded to the hate crimes against the Black students by stating that the southerners  "are not bad people. All they are concerned about is to see that their sweet little girls are not required to sit in school alongside some big overgrown Negroes." This highlights the juxtaposition between the NAACP’s goals and President Eisenhower's views on racial equality and gives insight into the President’s opinion that Black students are inferior. This highlights Eisenhower’s lack of care to integrate, as he justified hate crimes by being directly racist. Eisenhower asserts a racial tone by alluding to stereotypical ideologies that label white girls as “sweet” but Black boys and girls as  “big overgrown Negroes.” This also displays Eisenhower’s concern to maintain his support in the South rather than play a key role in the Civil Rights Movement and take an active stand against the injustice the nine African American students were facing. 


Although Eisenhower was not keen on taking a strong stand in many events during the Civil Rights Movement, civil rights activist Martin Luther King was able to put pressure on him to intervene against injustice. Throughout the Civil Rights Movement, Martin Luther King reached out to President Eisenhower to urge him to share his support for equality. In many cases, Martin Luther King convinced President Eisenhower to take a strong stance. After the Montgomery Bus Boycott in March of 1956, King sent a telegram to President Eisenhower urging him to intervene in the injustices that Black Americans were facing. King said, “Although fear has silenced many tongues we know that not all white citizens are against us… We are convinced, Mr. President, that by taking a direct interest in this stalemated situation you and you alone can tap fountainheads of goodwill.” Because of this telegram, King was able to convince Eisenhower to take action.  In December of 1956, the constitutionality of segregated seating was brought to court, and the case was presented to Chief Judge Frank M. Johnson, who was newly appointed by President Eisenhower. As a result, the federal district court ruled in Browder v. Gayle case that segregation in transportation was unconstitutional and struck down laws requiring segregated seating on public buses. This exemplifies Martin Luther King’s ability to convince President Eisenhower to take action. 

In the Little Rock Nine crisis, Dr. Martin Luther King was essential in providing the African American students protection, as his relationship with the President gave him the power to express why taking an active role in the crisis was so important. King recognized that President Eisenhower needed to interfere in the situation in Arkansas, and because of King’s relationship with the President, he was able to pressure Eisenhower to protect the Black students. In a telegram sent on September 9th, 1957, King urged President Eisenhower to “take a strong positive stand in the Little Rock situation.” He stressed that if the federal government did not take a stand against the prejudice the students were facing, it would “set the process of integration back fifty years.” Martin Luther King’s message to the President resulted in Eisenhower taking “positive stand” just days later. On September 25th, 1957, Eisenhower sent in soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division to escort African American students to Central High School. Without King’s pressure, Eisenhower would not have restored law and order in Arkansas, and segregation in schools would have prolonged for decades due to the Supreme Court’s vague outline as to when integration would happen.

Martin Luther King’s role was clearly essential, as Eisenhower didn’t want to take a stance as it would align him with a party, losing his support in the South. The Bill of Rights Institute refers to President Eisenhower’s change in mindset that caused him to support integration, as “bowing to liberal and popular pressure.” This liberal pressure can be seen as King’s powerful voice, and how it was powerful enough to convince the President to take a strong chance. President Eisenhower needed the push from Dr. Martin Luther King for change to happen. Because of Dr. Martin Luther King, the students were provided the protection they needed to be catalysts for change. 

The Brown Vs. Board of Education Supreme Court case allowed for the Little Rock Nine students to enter a predominantly white school, and they ultimately paved the way for integration within schools in America. Although the Brown Vs. Board of Education court ruling is a hallmark for racial equality, the Supreme Court’s ruling was not self-enforcing and rather vague, causing a three-year delay of integration. The ambiguous terms of the court case, urging for integration with “deliberate speed,” coupled with President Eisenhower’s lack of eagerness to integrate and his fear of losing support, resulted in the students facing backlash from segregationists and the Little Rock school board. However, because Martin Luther King stepped in and wrote to President Eisenhower, pressuring him to take a “strong stand” in the Little Rock Nine Crisis, the students were able to go to school and be the catalysts for integration in education. Martin Luther King’s drive for equality is mirrored in activists today. Black youth still face a myriad of injustices in today’s society, such as less access to student loans, a thirty percent gender wage gap between their white counterparts, and lack proper facilities due to restrained state funding in low-income and predominantly black districts. Activist groups such as Black Lives Matter, inspired by the work of Dr. King, speak up to create change and put pressure on the government and local authorities to fight for equality and against racial injustice. Although the Black community still faces racial inequalities, the activists fighting for racial justice pave the way for true justice.


The author's comments:

I personally am an activist for all communities facing injustice. As a student, I hope for equality for all within the realm of education. Therefore, I wrote a paper on the Little Rock Nine Crisis, as it hones in on the racial prejudice students had to face in a conservative town in Arkansas. However, since I am an activist, I focused on a civil rights activist who played a huge role in integration in Central High School, which had a long-lasting impact on desegregation in America. I honed in on Martin Luther King's role in the Little Rock Nine crisis, as I am inspired by his courage and commitment to social justice.

Annotated bibliography (MLA):

 History.com Editors. “Little Rock Nine.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, January 29, 2010. history.com/topics/black-history/central-high-school-integration.
 

History.com is keen on raising awareness of current events by linking them to the past, highlighting the vitality of history to understand the future. Although lacking specificity on the author of the Article, History.com articles are produced from in-house authors and historians who are all experienced writers that have completed proper research to investigate the Little Rock Nine Crisis. For my research paper, I used this article to conduct background research, get an initial understanding of the Little Rock Nine Crisis, and understand the standoff between Governor Faubus of Arkansas and the judiciary. 


Clark, Alexis. “Why Eisenhower Sent the 101st Airborne to Little Rock After Brown v. Board.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, April 8, 2020. history.com/news/little-rock-nine-brown-v-board-eisenhower-101-airborne. 

History.com’s myriad of articles on the Little Rock Nine crisis provides a clear outline of the topic while also shedding light on the key aspects that created change. This source provided me with a clear understanding of why Eisenhower intervened; it proved why Martin Luther King’s role was so essential in ending segregation in school. Additionally, this article discusses how President Eisenhower got Governor Faubus to stand down, which was crucial to my understanding during this research paper. 


 “Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 349 U.S. 294 (1955).” Justia Law. Accessed May 17, 2021. supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/349/294/#tab-opinion-1940989. 

Justia Law provides documentation of original court cases, ranging from state-level cases up to the Supreme Court. The original court case of the Brown Vs. Board of Education Supreme Court Case. This source was essential to my research, as it helped me understand the court case. Although the court case is typically referred to as monumental, seeing the original case helped me evaluate the opposing sides of the case and how “with all deliberate speed” ultimately prolonged segregation. This primary source was essential to my research, as it explained one of my main arguments, which is why Martin Luther King was necessary to solving the Little Rock Nine Crisis. 

 

 Ogletree, Charles J. “All Deliberate Speed.” Center for American Progress, September 25, 2006. americanprogress.org/issues/general/news/2004/04/12/660/all-deliberate-speed/.

Center for American Progress is an advocacy organization that hones on reviewing public policy in America and how it has affected history. For my research project on the Little Rock Nine crisis, this source helped me understand the root cause, and not just what “all deliberate speed” meant, but what it did to slow down the progress of integration. I specifically used it to understand how it allowed for massive resistance from segregationists to grow. All in all, the Center for American Progress is a beneficial source, and it has guided me towards my understanding of the segregationists who backlashed against integration in Central High School. 


 Anderson, Karen. Little Rock: Race and Resistance at Central High School. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014. 

Little Rock: Race and Resistance at Central High School by Karen Anderson focuses on the racial inequities previous to desegregation coupled with racism in the South was the main reason that the nine African American students faced resistance. This book was published by the Princeton University Press, which highlights its reliability as a source in my research project, as the Princeton University Press is an esteemed publishing house. For my specific research, I used an excerpt of this book, found on JSTOR, that explained Governor Faubus’ role in the massive resistance these students faced. It also explained how Faubus defied court orders from the judiciary to further his support from segregationists. Karen Anderson’s book on Little Rock Nine dived into Governor Faubus’ key role. 

 

 Ulmer, S. Sidney. "Earl Warren and the Brown Decision." The Journal of Politics 33, no. 3 (1971): 689-702. Accessed May 17, 2021. doi:10.2307/2128278.

Sidney Ulmer’s article in the Journal of Politics provided insight into Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren’s decision on the Brown Vs. Board of Education, and the reasoning behind his unanimous decision, as it conferred power to the state. The Journal of Politics is a political-based database where secondary sources can be accessed to understand events in History and Politics further. Although Mr. Ulmer’s article may be seen as a biased view on why Warren made this unanimous decision, it ultimately helped further the argument presented in my thesis; it highlighted how many state officials did not see the urgency in integration, as they conferred power to the states, making King’s role essential to ending segregation.


With All Deliberate Speed.” BackStory. Accessed May 17, 2021. backstoryradio.org/blog/with-all-deliberate-speed/. 

The Backstory platform interviews and takes interviews from events in history or current events to give their readers a first-hand account of the event, allowing them to form their view based on a primary source. For my research project, I used their interview with Oliver J. Hill, a prevalent civil rights attorney, to defend the first part of my thesis that explained how the court’s ambiguity ultimately prolonged segregation. BackStory has been essential to my research, as it gave me a first-hand account of the effects the court case had on education in the South.


 Charles J. Ogletree Jr., All Deliberate Speed: Brown's Past and Brown's Future, 107 W. Va. L. Rev. (2005). researchrepository.wvu.edu/wvlr/vol107/iss3/6

The West Virginia University research database is extensive in its myriad of articles, facts, and primary sources it has to offer on the United States and International History. As an established university, the published facts and reports are thoroughly reviewed, thus providing accuracy to any information I have used from them within my paper. For my specific study, I used the WVU research to get insight into Thurgood Marshall’s perspective on “With all deliberate speed.” This source, which provided me with primary evidence of what the court’s vague ruling actually meant, is essential to my argument within the paper. 

 

Stockley, Grif. Daisy Bates: Civil Rights Crusader from Arkansas. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2005. 

The University Press of Missippi published Daisy Bates’ first-hand account of the violence the Black students faced in Central High School. This Press is a consistent and reliable source, as the website does extensive research to confirm facts before publishing articles or primary evidence. I used an excerpt from this book, which I found on the JSTOR database, to further my understanding of the NAACP’s role in desegregating Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. 

 

 Serwer, Adam. “Why Don't We Remember Ike as a Civil Rights Hero?” MSNBC. NBCUniversal News Group, September 25, 2020. msnbc.com/msnbc/why-dont-we-ike-civil-rights-msna329796. 

MSNBC is known to stand to be less biased than its competitors within the News and Journalism field; it stands somewhat in the middle of the political spectrum. Therefore, its unbiased material on Eisenhower’s lack of enthusiasm to desegregate provided me more insight into why Dr. Martin Luther King’s pressure was essential. Besides providing me with a basic understanding, the article also included primary sources. I was able to use a quote from Eisenhower, as it was a statement he made after the Brown Vs. Board of Education Supreme Court Case. MSNBC’s article on Eisenhower helped me prove my thesis and provided all their arguments with evidence that spanned throughout the report.

 

Brown v. Board of Education.” Miller Center, February 2, 2021. millercenter.org/the-presidency/educational-resources/brown-v-board-education. 

The Miller Center hones in on Public Policy from a nonpartisan viewpoint and is an affiliate of the University of Virginia, a highly esteemed institution. In addition, the Miller Center also focuses on political history, which is what I had used it most for in my research. To be more specific, I used the database to get another perspective on Eisenhower’s care or lack thereof on the topic of integration in public schools. The source provided me with Harvard professor  Tomiko Brown-Nagin’s point of view on Eisenhower’s lack of care that affected the outcome of integration; this helped further my argument and essentially consolidated it, as having a Harvard Professor’s point of view within the paper further validated my argument since Harvard is a world-renowned institution.  

 

Montgomery Bus Boycott.” The Martin Luther King, Jr., Research and Education Institute. Stanford University, May 30, 2019. kinginstitute.stanford.edu/encyclopedia/montgomery-bus-boycott. 

Stanford University’s Martin Luther King Jr., Research and Education Institute has a goal of shining light on King’s accomplishments, while also providing insight into his actions that directly affected the outcome of the Civil Rights movement and racial equality today. This database helped me prove my thesis in the last section of my essay, which focussed on the works of Martin Luther King and how he was essential in getting Governor Faubus to stand down. I used this specific article from the database to give insight into Dr. King’s relationship with President Eisenhower. I used this to prove how powerful Dr. King’s requests were and how they ultimately created change. It presented insight into their relationship by providing me with a telegram Dr. King had sent to President Eisenhower. 


“Browder v. Gayle, 352 U.S. 903.” The Martin Luther King, Jr., Research and Education Institute. Stanford University, May 19, 2020. kinginstitute.stanford.edu/encyclopedia/browder-v-gayle-352-us-903. 

Stanford University’s research database on Martin Luther King has direct quotes from many instances where King stood up against injustice and ultimately highlights his accomplishments and the progression he made for the black community. For this part of my research, I used this article to understand the effects that King’s telegram had, as it urged Eisenhower to take action in terms of segregation in public busses. This case had ended segregation in public transportation under a Judge who Eisenhower appointed. Thus, Stanford’s premier research database has been vital in proving my thesis and connecting it to King’s essential role in ending segregation in public schools. 


“Little Rock School Desegregation.” The Martin Luther King, Jr., Research and Education Institute, May 22, 2018. kinginstitute.stanford.edu/encyclopedia/little-rock-school-desegregation. 

Within the Stanford Institution’s database on Martin Luther King, the article provides a broad outline of Little Rock Nine and desegregation. However, later in the article, it does provide insight into King played a key role in convincing President Eisenhower. In Addition, it provided me with direct quotes from King, as he urged Eisenhower to intervene and take a firm stance. It also provided me with a direct quote explaining King’s response to Eisenhower’s intervening, as he does eventually take a strong stance.


“The Little Rock Nine.” Bill of Rights Institute. Accessed May 17, 2021. billofrightsinstitute.org/essays/the-little-rock-nine. 

The Bill of Rights Institute provides educational resources on American history and policy and gives insight into events in American History. This source helped me conclude my essay while strengthening my argument stated within my thesis. It explained that Eisenhower only intervened due to “liberal pressure.” Because of this evidence and explanation, I was able to conclude that the liberal pressure Eisenhower needed to intervene was King’s convincing. The Bill of Rights Institute has provided key and accurate data, which gave me insight into the political landscape in America during the Little Rock Nine crisis and under Eisenhower’s presidency. 


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