September 26, 1957
On September 26, 1957, the front page of the Chicago Defender (and almost every other newspaper in the United States) carried news that nine African-American students under protection from federal troops had integrated Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. The Defender’s front page photograph featured a member of the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division holding a bayonet with the caption “Mission Accomplished.” The story was decidedly upbeat, with quotes from the Little Rock Nine suggesting that things went well inside the school. “Courageous Elizabeth Eckford, 15, who walked a gauntlet of hooting, jeering whites recently, was enthusiastic about her experiences,” the Defender reported. “She said: ‘My teachers are very nice. Among the classes I attended, were French, chemistry and English. The white students were nice to me.’ Miss Eckford plans to major in history and science.” (Click to view article PDF.)
The Defender’s editorial struck a similar note of resolve: “For better or for worse, the crisis has reached the flood-tide where not only the fate of integration will be determined, but also the right of central government to uphold the Constitution. It is a pity that the White House did not deem it proper to assert its authority a bit sooner. Most important, however, than the assessment of responsibilities, is the return of the Negro children to the Central High school. Though they had to enter their classes under the protection of bayonets and guns, it is nevertheless a victory not only for those who believed in the constitution and in law and order, but also for those who believe in the sanctity of elementary human rights.” The battle over segregation in Little Rock’s schools continued, and in September 1958 Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus closed Little Rock’s high schools for the year pending a public vote. By a vote of 19,470 to 7,561, Little Rock citizens supported Faubus’ decision to keep the schools closed to prevent integration. All but one of the Little Rock Nine completed their high school degrees in other parts of the country or via correspondence courses.