Minnijean Brown. Elizabeth Eckford. Ernest Green. Thelma Mothershed. Melba Patillo. Gloria Ray. Terrence Roberts. Jefferson Thomas. Carlotta Walls.
These are the “Little Rock 9”: the first Black students to enroll in an all-white Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1957. Before that story is recapped, there is a story that needs to be told about one of the 9’s biggest supporters: Daisy Bates.
Daisy Bates (1914 – 1999) was an American Civil Rights activist, journalist, and newspaper publicist in Little Rock, Arkansas. She was adopted as a baby: her birth mother was killed and her father fled for his safety. As a teenager, she met Lucious Christopher “L.C.” Bates, an insurance agent and experienced journalist, marrying him in 1942. In 1942, the couple launched the Arkansas State Press, a weekly newspaper focusing on the need for improvements for Arkansas’ black residents; the newspaper went especially hard after acts of police brutality (something that, nearly 80 years later, is still a national problem).
In 1952, Daisy Bates was selected to serve as President of the Arkansas Branch of the NAACP. This led to her becoming involved on Arkansas’ school integration fight: the state wanted a long, slow integration; Bates wanted an immediate integration. She began taking black students to the white public school, armed with newspaper photographers who documented each incident.
In 1957, Bates used her house as a staging ground for the black students that were trying to get into Central High School. On September 4th, the students, bates, and photographers tried to enter the school but were turned back. On the 25th, backed by President Eisenhower-ordered National Guard troops, and enduring almost-continuous racial taunts, threats, and pressure, the “Little Rock 9”, flanked by Daisy Bates and her photographers, entered Central High School for the first time.
Although closed in 1959 for financial reasons, Bates and her husband continued to revive the Arkansas State Press for periods of time. According to Biography.com: “[Bates] moved to Washington, D.C., to work for the Democratic National Committee and on antipoverty projects for the Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration.” She moved back to Little Rock in the mid-1960s, working with the newspaper and spending time on community projects.