Black History Month – Little Rock Central High School September 1957

By Guest Blogger, Yahtzeebutterfly

Little Rock school

Elizabeth Eckford being verbally attacked by the monstrous mob

The desegregation of Little Rock Central High School in September 1957 brought to the surface the vile racism of whites, both within the community and outside it.  A huge, nasty mob formed around the high school on September 4, the day that nine black students were to integrate the school.  The nine black students were, Minnijean Brown, Terrance Roberts, Elizabeth Eckford, Ernest Green, Thelma Mothershed, Melba Patillo, Gloria Ray, Jefferson Thomas, and Carlotta Walls.  Horrible acts of hate and violence were directed at them.

Just 12 years after the U.S. had liberated Hitler’s concentration camps where 6 million Jews were murdered, a New York Times reporter, Dr. Benjamin Fine, was spat upon and called a “dirty Jew” as he and a white woman, Grace Lorch, rescued Elizabeth Eckford from the mob.  Dr. Fine told Daisy Bates what he had witnessed:

“I was standing in front of the school that day.  Suddenly there was a shout—“They’re here!  The niggers are coming!” I saw a sweet little girl who looked about fifteen, walking alone… The women were shouting “Get her! Lynch her!  The men were yelling, “Go home, you bastard of a black bitch.” 

We took Elizabeth across the street to the drugstore.  I remained on the sidewalk with Elizabeth while Mrs. Lorch tried to enter the drugstore to call a cab.  But the hoodlums slammed the door in her face and wouldn’t let her in.  She pleaded with them to call a cab for the child.  They closed in on her saying, Get out of her, you bitch!  Just then the city bus came.  Mrs. Lorch and Elizabeth got on… 

When the bus pulled away, the mob closed in around me. “We saw you put your arm around that little bitch.  Now it’s your turn.” A drab, middle-aged woman said viciously, “Grab him and kick him in the balls!” A girl I had seen hustling in one of the local bars screamed, “A dirty New York Jew!”

(from pages 69-71 of “The Long Shadow of Little Rock” by Daisy Bates)

The other black students were rushed home and had to wait many days until September 23rd for the next time they would attempt to enter the school.  During that time the phones at the homes of the nine students were ringing nonstop with vicious, hate calls.  One student’s home was shot at and mobs were roaming the streets.

It was the frightening incidents of September 23, reported by newspapers across the country, that caused President Dwight D. Eisenhower to send the 101st Airborne Division, the Screaming Eagles to Little Rock.

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L. Alex Wilson was kicked, repeatedly pushed, knocked down, and hit with a brick by members of the mob

On September 23rd all hell broke loose.  The nine students, having managed to enter the school, were treated viciously and violently by the white students.  Outside, a group of four Black reporters working for Black newspapers were attacked by the mob outside.

Alex Wilson of the Tri-State Defender refused to run with the three other Black reporters when the mob told them to run and get out of there.  He chose to walk, making good on a promise to himself never to run away again after he, earlier in his life, had run from the Ku Klux Klan.  During the attack on the four reporters, the nine Black students arrived and slipped into a side entrance to the high school.  It was when the crowd discovered and then focused its attention and anger on the nine students that the four reporters were able to escape from the scene.

Alex Wilson, a 6’3” former Marine, wrote of his experience that afternoon:

“I decided not to run.  If I were to be beaten, I’d take it walking if I could—not running.”

Wilson began his article:

Little Rock—I was one of three Negro newsmen and a free lance photographer who were attacked by a shabby, hate-filled mob of segregationists Monday near Central High School, at 14th and Park.

The others assaulted were James Hickes, managing editor of the Amsterdam news; Moses J. Newson of the Afro-American newspaper, and Earl Davy,  free lance photographer of Little Rock. 

I did not leave my post as general manager and editor of the Memphis Tri-State Defender, a member of Defender Publications, with any desire or intention of projecting myself into the national limelight.

I knew before I came to Little Rock that the assignment would be a tough one.  The task had to be performed and only a veteran should take it.  Common sense dictated that I perform the duty. Any newsman worth his salt is dedicated to the proposition that it is his responsibility to report the news factually under favorable and unfavorable conditions.  I strive to serve in the category.

Amazingly, after writing that article the afternoon of the day he was beaten, Alex Wilson continued on to join the other three journalists at Daisy Bates’ house where he stayed up through the night guarding her house at one of the windows with a rifle.

In the following video Journalist Moses Newson recounts the attack on the four of them and what Alex Wilson endured:

 

The following day, September 24, the 101st Airborne Division, took over at Central High School.

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Posted on 02/24/2016, in Black History Month, civil rights, Potpourri and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 18 Comments.

  1. yahtzeebutterfly

    The vile hatred of the crowd toward the Little Rock Nine students was captured by this painting by Domingo Ulloa titled Racism/Incident at Little Rock :

    Liked by 1 person

  2. yahtzeebutterfly

    In Warriors Don’t Cry, written more than thirty years after that 1957-58 school year, Melba Pattillo Beals revealed the violence and hate directed at her and the other eight within the school. She, herself, was tripped, kicked, pushed down the stairs, stabbed in the back with the point of a flag stick, trapped in the gym’s shower with scalding water pouring on her back, had burning paper tossed down on her while she sat in a bathroom stall, and had acid tossed in her eyes in the hallway by a student who came at her despite a soldier personally following right behind her (the quick action of the soldier washing out her eyes saved her eyes.)

    She speaks of her experience in this video:

    Liked by 3 people

  3. The bravery shown by these students was a powerful inspiration to many young activists of my generation.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Yahtzee,
    Thank you so much for your articles in honor of Black History Month.

    Like

  5. Thank you so much for this.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Amazing write! It actually left me crying. Yes they were so brave!!! Thank you yahtzeebutterfly!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. This story always makes my heart ache. I cannot imagine the pain and worry that those children must have felt.

    Liked by 1 person

    • yahtzeebutterfly

      I feel the way you feel, Ashley. All nine of them were horribly mistreated within the school by so many of the white students. Their courage and steadfast determination to make it through the year is admirable.

      (I appreciate you visiting and reading the article.)

      Like

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