By Amanda Galiano, About.com Guide

Imagine that you are a black student in 1957 preparing to go to Little Rock Central High School to attempt what seemed impossible — the integration of public schools. These students were aware of what the public thought of their entering into a “white” high school. They didn’t worry about fitting in. Most whites, including the governor at the time, Orval Faubus, stood against them. Most troubling to the students was the fact that many blacks thought that the integration of Central would cause more trouble for their race than good.

The night before Thelma Mothershed, Elizabeth Eckford, Melba Pattillo, Jefferson Thomas, Ernest Green, Minniejean Brown, Carlotta Walls, Terrence Roberts and Gloria Ray, or the “Little Rock Nine” as history remembers them, were to enter into high school was not a peaceful night of sleep. It was a night filled with hate. Faubus declared that integration was an impossibility in a televised statement and instructed the Arkansas National Guard to surround Central High and keep all blacks out of the school. They did keep them out for that first day of class.

[An adult activist] Daisy Bates instructed the students to wait for her on Wednesday, the second day of school, and planned for all nine students and herself to enter the school together. Unfortunately, Elizabeth Eckford, one of the nine, did not have a phone. She never received the message and attempted to enter the school alone through the front entrance. An angry mob met her, threatening to lynch her, as the Arkansas National Guard looked on. Fortunately, two whites stepped forward to aid her and she escaped without injury. The other eight were also denied admittance by the National Guard who were under orders from Governor Faubus.

LRCH 9-25-57. Remember Little Rock, p42

Federal troops escorting the Little Rock Nine into Central High for the first time. Photo credit: Bettman/CORBIS.

[Finally, on September 25th,] President Eisenhower sent the 101st Airborne Division to Little Rock to protect the nine students. Each student had their own guard. The students did enter Central High and were protected somewhat, but they were the subject of persecution. Students spat at them, beat them, and yelled insults. White mothers pulled their children out of school, and even blacks told the nine to give up. Why did they stay under such hostile situations? Ernest Green says “We kids did it mainly because we didn’t know any better, but our parents were willing to put their careers, and their homes on the line.”

…These nine students, although they didn’t realize it then, made huge waves in the civil rights movement. Not only did they show that blacks COULD fight for their rights and WIN, they also brought the idea of segregation to the forefront of people’s minds. They showed the nation what extreme and horrible measures some whites would take to protect segregation. No doubt, the events at Central High inspired many lunch counter sit ins and Freedom Rides and inspired blacks to take up the cause of Civil Rights. If these nine children could take on the huge task, they could too.

Read the full article about the “Crisis,” as it is called in Little Rock, here.

Additional resources here.