The “Little Rock Nine” and School Integration

In 1954, the NAACP’s efforts to reverse the “separate but equal” doctrine of Plessy v. Ferguson that supported the Jim Crow system reached fruition when the United States Supreme Court issued its unanimous opinion in the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (Kansas) (1954).The Court said: “Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” Thurgood Marshall, lead counsel for the NAACP, who had previously won other significant anti-discrimination cases for the NAACP and who later became the first black to sit on the Supreme Court, argued the case for the NAACP. The Brown opinion ordered the states to desegregate schools “…with all deliberate speed.” But, without a specific deadline for integration, Southern, and some Northern, school districts reacted with delay tactics. (Jennings and Brewster, p. 354.) It was not until the 1970s that the cities of Boston, Mass., Charlotte, N.C. and Louisville, Ky. began to integrate their school systems. (Id.)

In 1957, there were still no integrated classrooms in most Southern states. (Hakim, p. 318; Jennings and Brewster, Id.) Nine black high school students, The “Little Rock Nine,” decided to challenge the system and to integrate Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. This was the first major confrontation emanating from the Brown v. Board of Education opinion.

The Governor of Arkansas, Orville Faubus, called out the state militia to prevent the black students from entering Central High School. For nine weeks, the state national guard prevented the nine black students from entering the school. What resulted was an ugly scene of mob racial hatred. Ultimately, President Eisenhower called out federal troops to ensure that the black students safely entered the school. Although they got to attend classes and even graduate from Central High, white students made the situation very difficult for these black pioneers. (Id.) However, with the momentum coming from integration in Little Rock, it was only matter of time before integration would be occurring in schools all over the country.

Sam Cooke wrote and often performed “A Change is Gonna Come, a pop hit in 1965, expressing his optimism in response to similar civil rights events. Cooke’s song was more in keeping with the Dr. Martin Luther King “I have a dream” approach, in contrast to Nina Simone’s frustrated focus on the “now” in “Mississippi Goddam. (Lynskey, pp. 78-81.) (

I was born by the river in a little tent
Oh and just like the river I’ve been running ev’r since
It’s been a long time, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will

It’s been too hard living, but I’m afraid to die
‘Cause I don’t know what’s up there, beyond the sky
It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will

I go to the movie and I go downtown
Somebody keep tellin’ me don’t hang around
It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will

Then I go to my brother
And I say brother help me please
But he winds up knockin’ me
Back down on my knees, oh

There have been times that I thought I couldn’t last for long
But now I think I’m able to carry on
It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change is gonna come, oh yes it will