NBC's Katie Couric looks at the battle for integration that took place in Little Rock, Arkansas, when the Little Rock Nine tried to go to the all-white Central High School and Governor Orval Faubus ordered National Guardsmen to surround the school.
What It Took to Integrate Central High School
KATIE COURIC, co-host:
The year was 1957. The campus of Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, became a battleground in the fight for school desegregation.
Archival file footage, GROUP: Two, four, six, eight, we don't want to integrate!
COURIC: It was in September that nine black students, six girls and three boys, became forever known as "the Little Rock nine." On September 2nd of that year, days before Central High was to be integrated, Governor Orval Faubus of Arkansas ordered National Guardsmen to surround the school. Their orders: to only let the white students in.
Governor ORVAL FAUBUS (September 9, 1957): I acted to protect the persons and property of the people of Little Rock.
COURIC: Faubus was defying the Supreme Court decision, which required desegregation of schools. A judge later ruled that Faubus used the troops to prevent integration, not to preserve law and order as he had claimed. To avoid any further violence and to enforce the law, President Eisenhower sent in troops of his own.
Former President DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER (September 14, 1957): I have today issued an executive order directing the use of troops under a federal authority to aid in the execution of federal law at Little Rock, Arkansas.
COURIC: Escorted by the 101st Airborne Division, these nine students faced jeering crowds and racial slurs as they walked through the doors of Central High.
Former President BILL CLINTON (November 9, 1999): When they marched up the steps to school, a simple act, they became foot soldiers for freedom.
In a key event of the American civil rights movement, nine black students enrolled at formerly all-white Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, in September 1957, testing a landmark 1954 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that declared segregation in public schools unconstitutional. The court had mandated that all public schools in the country be integrated “with all deliberate speed” in its decision related to the groundbreaking case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka.