In September 1957, nine black teenagers, Jefferson Thomas, Carlotta Walls, Gloria Ray, Elizabeth Eckford, Thelma Mothershed, Melba Pattillo, Terrance Roberts, Minniejean Brown, and Ernest Green, tried to enroll at Central High School, an all-white school, in Little Rock, Arkansas.
The governor called the Arkansas National Guard to prevent them from entering.
Mobs of angry whites outside the school threatened the students, their supporters, and even newspaper reporters.
Daisy Bates, president of the Arkansas chapter of the NAACP, offered her home and her services to help the students, who became known as the Little Rock Nine. The students met at her home every day, and she arranged for them to be taken to the school.
Because of her connection with the students her home was bombed, shot at, and stoned, and crosses were burned on her lawn. People or businesses who sold or advertised in the Arkansas State Press, the newspaper owned by Bates and her husband, were threatened, until the paper was forced to close. It was the family’s only source of income.
The mobs at Central High School became an international story. On the first day the students entered the school, the mob rushed the school. The police made no attempt to stop them, and the nine black students had to make a daring escape by car from an underground garage.
Minniejean Brown was suspended from Central when she poured chili on the head of a white boy who kept calling her racist names in the cafeteria. After she did so, there was absolute silence. Then the cafeteria workers, all black, applauded.
Ernest Green, who entered as a senior, was the first and only one of the Little Rock Nine to graduate that June. Martin Luther King Jr. was a guest at the ceremony, and sat with Green’s mother and Daisy Bates. When Green’s name was called, there was silence instead of applause as there had been for the other students.
“But I figured they didn’t have to,” said Green. “Because after I got that diploma, that was it. I had accomplished what I had come there for.”