On September 25th of 1957, under the watchful eye of the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division, nine black teenagers nervously entered the previously all-white Little Rock High School to become students. A similar but unguarded attempt weeks earlier had been alarmingly unsuccessful, and even this subsequent military intervention – ordered by President Eisenhower no less – did little to prevent the unrelenting abuse unleashed on the Little Rock Nine over the next year.
Central to the area’s desegregation – and therefore a major figure in the early stages of the entire civil rights movement – was Daisy Bates: publisher of the local black newspaper and President of the Arkansas branch of the NAACP. Below is a letter she wrote in December of that year to NAACP’s executive director, Roy Wilkins, in which she updates him on the students’ progress.
December 17, 1957
Mr. Roy Wilkins
20 West 40th Street
New York, N. Y.
Dear Mr. Wilkins:
Conditions are yet pretty rough in the school for the children. Last week, Minnie Jean’s mother, Mrs. W. B. Brown, asked me to go over to the school with her for a conference with the principal, and the two assistant principals. Subject of conference: “Firmer disciplinary measures, and the withdrawal of Minnie Jean from the glee club’s Christmas program.” The principal had informed Minnie Jean in withdrawing her from the program that “When it is definitely decided that Negroes will go to school here with the whites, and the troops are removed, then you will be able to participate in all activities.” We strongly challenged this statement, which he denied making in that fashion.
We also pointed out that the treatment of the children had been getting steadily worse for the last two weeks in the form of kicking, spitting, and general abuse. As a result of our visit, stronger measures are being taken against the white students who are guilty of committing these offenses. For instance, a boy who had been suspended for two weeks, flunked both six-weeks tests, and on his return to school, the first day he knocked Gloria Ray into her locker. As a result of our visit, he was given an indefinite suspension.
The superintendent of schools also requested a conference the same afternoon. Clarence and I went down and spent about two hours. Here, again we pointed out that a three-day suspension given Hugh Williams for a sneak attack perpetrated on one of the Negro boys which knocked him out, and required a doctor’s attention, was not sufficient punishment. We also informed him that our investigation revealed that there were many pupils willing to help if given the opportunity, and that President Eisenhower was very much concerned about the Little Rock crisis. He has stated his willingness to come down and address the student body if invited by student leaders of the school. This information was passed on to the principal of the school, but we have not abandoned the idea. Last Friday, the 13th, I was asked to call Washington and see if we could get FBI men placed in the school December 16-18.
Thanks for sending Clarence to help. I don’t know how I would have made it without him. I am enclosing a financial statement, and as you can see, we are in pretty bad shape financially. On December 18, we will probably have to make bond for three of our officials from the North Little Rock Branch. December 18, midnight, is the deadline for filing names and addresses of members and contributors. I have talked with Mrs. Birdie Williams, and we are attempting to have them spend the night away from their homes, because we have been informed that they plan to arrest them after midnite.
I am suggesting that a revolving fund be set up here of $1,000.00 to take care of emergencies, and an accounting could be given at the end of each month. We are having trouble getting cost bonds executed on the North Little Rock suit. We had to put up £510.00 collateral plus three co-signers. We informed Bob Carter of our difficulty, and he asked Jack to see what could be done on that end. Please check with him.
I have not heard anything from the scholarship trust papers. We have deposited the money received for the scholarship. Mrs. A. L. Mothershed, 1313 Chester Street, mother of one of the children, is serving as trustee.
I would appreciate hearing from you pertaining to the above mentioned matters at your earliest convenience.
I plan to attend the board meeting on January 6.
(Signed, ‘Daisy Bates’)
cc: Mr. Current