On this date in 1957 members of the 101st Airborne Division, in battle gear and carrying rifles, escorted nine Black students into the previously all-White Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas, to enforce a federal mandate to desegregate schools following the landmark Supreme Court decision in Brown vs Board of Education – “separate but equal” is untenable. It is important to showcase this event today because it highlights problems in the U.S. which have never gone away, although for decades they have been ignored. Racism, bigotry, and discrimination have always been part of the United States since its founding. It is a nation built on slavery. 100 years after Lincoln fought a war to free the slaves, Blacks were legally free, but still oppressed. The Civil Rights era of the 1960s, which has roots with the Little Rock Nine, did a lot of good, but it did not do enough. African-Americans are still slaves in practice even though they are legally free. If that does not change the nation will destroy itself.
Perhaps the events of the 1950s and 60s have been forgotten or glossed over. For many people today they are events for the history books, but many people are alive today who remember them. I certainly do, and I was not living in the U.S. back then. Racism in the U.S. was international news that horrified us all. Many of the Little Rock Nine are still alive. This event must not be forgotten. Read here for related events associated with the Civil Rights Movement:
The U.S. Supreme Court issued its historic Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, 347 U.S. 483, on May 17, 1954. The decision, tied to the 14th Amendment (Equal Protection), declared all laws establishing segregated schools to be unconstitutional, and it called for the desegregation of all schools throughout the nation. After the decision, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) attempted to register black students in previously all-white schools in cities throughout the South. In Little Rock, the capital city of Arkansas, the Little Rock School Board agreed to comply with the high court’s ruling. Virgil Blossom, the Superintendent of Schools, submitted a plan of gradual integration to the school board on May 24, 1955, which the board unanimously approved. The plan would be implemented during the fall of the 1957 school year, which would begin in September 1957.
By 1957, the NAACP had registered nine black students to attend the previously all-white Little Rock Central High, selected on the criteria of excellent grades and attendance. These “Little Rock Nine” were Ernest Green (b. 1941), Elizabeth Eckford (b. 1941), Jefferson Thomas (1942–2010), Terrence Roberts (b. 1941), Carlotta Walls LaNier (b. 1942), Minnijean Brown (b. 1941), Gloria Ray Karlmark (b. 1942), Thelma Mothershed (b. 1940), and Melba Pattillo Beals (b. 1941). Ernest Green was the first African-American to graduate from Central High School.
Several segregationist councils threatened to hold protests at Central High and physically block the black students from entering the school. Governor Orval Faubus deployed the Arkansas National Guard to support the segregationists on September 4, 1957. The sight of a line of soldiers blocking out the students made national headlines and polarized the nation. Regarding the accompanying crowd, one of the nine students, Elizabeth Eckford, recalled:
They moved closer and closer. … Somebody started yelling. … I tried to see a friendly face somewhere in the crowd—someone who maybe could help. I looked into the face of an old woman and it seemed a kind face, but when I looked at her again, she spat on me.
On September 9, the Little Rock School District issued a statement condemning the governor’s deployment of soldiers to the school, and called for a citywide prayer service on September 12. Even President Dwight Eisenhower attempted to de-escalate the situation by summoning Faubus for a meeting, warning him not to defy the Supreme Court’s ruling.
Woodrow Wilson Mann, the mayor of Little Rock, asked President Eisenhower to send federal troops to enforce integration and protect the nine students. On September 24, the President ordered the 101st Airborne Division of the United States Army—without its Black soldiers, who rejoined the division a month later—to Little Rock and federalized the entire 10,000-member Arkansas National Guard, taking it out of the hands of Faubus.
By the end of September 1957, the nine were admitted to Little Rock Central High under the protection of the 101st Airborne Division (and later the Arkansas National Guard), but they were still subjected to a year of physical and verbal abuse (being spat on and called names) by many of the white students. Melba Pattillo had acid thrown into her eyes and also recalled in her book, Warriors Don’t Cry, an incident in which a group of white girls trapped her in a stall in the girls’ washroom and attempted to burn her by dropping pieces of flaming paper on her from above. Another one of the students, Minnijean Brown, was verbally confronted and abused. She wrote:
I was one of the kids ‘approved’ by the school officials. We were told we would have to take a lot and were warned not to fight back if anything happened. One girl ran up to me and said, ‘I’m so glad you’re here. Won’t you go to lunch with me today?’ I never saw her again.
Minnijean Brown was also taunted by members of a group of white male students in December 1957 in the school cafeteria during lunch. She dropped her lunch, a bowl of chili, on to the boys and was suspended for six days. Two months later, after more confrontation, Brown was suspended for the rest of the school year. She transferred to New Lincoln High School in New York City. As depicted in the 1981 made-for-TV docudrama Crisis at Central High, and as mentioned by Melba Pattillo Beals in Warriors Don’t Cry, White students were punished only when their offense was “both egregious and witnessed by an adult.” The drama was based on a book by Elizabeth Huckaby, a vice-principal during the crisis.
Chili would be a great recipe for the day but I already covered it here:
Arkansas, like most states, does not have an official state food. It does, however, have several edible symbols include milk and pink tomato. The state cooking vessel is the Dutch Oven. I took this from Tastes of the States: A Food History of America by Hilde Gabriel Lee (1992)
Since Arkansas borders the South, the Southwest, and the Midwest, it has a mixture of cuisines. Plantation cookery of the Mississippi Valley, the hill cooking of the Ozarks, and the Mexican influcences of Texas and Oklahoma all combine to make a unique style of food…There is a great emphasis of real “down-home” flavors. Fried pork chops with a light-brown cream gravy to which bits of sausage have been added have remained a favorite dish.
I’ll go with that option. No, it is not good for you heart or arteries.
Fry some sausage meat in chunks in bacon fat.
Add a little flour.
Cook and stir the flour and fat to combine.
Add beef stock and simmer for about 20 minutes.
Add heavy cream.
Simmer gently and taste for flavor. Salt is unnecessary because of the stock and sausage meat, but I like to add a ton of freshly ground black pepper.
Pan fry pork chops. I use a dry pan to increase the browning.
Serve with a ladle of gravy over the chop. Southern biscuits or crusty bread go well with the dish to sop up the gravy. Don’t leave any.
For completeness, I made a peach cobbler for dessert. I’ll get around to the recipe some day.