Publish date:
Updated on
Year
1957

Arkansas troops prevent desegregation

Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus enlists the National Guard to prevent nine African American students from entering Central High School in Little Rock. The armed Arkansas militia troops surrounded the school while an angry crowd of some 400 whites jeered, booed, and threatened to lynch the frightened African American teenagers, who fled shortly after arriving. Faubus took the action in violation of a federal order to integrate the school. The conflict set the stage for the first major test of the U.S. Supreme Court’s unanimous 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka that racial segregation in educational facilities is unconstitutional.

The historic decision, which brought an end to federal tolerance of racial segregation, specifically dealt with Linda Brown, a young African American girl who had been denied admission to her local elementary school in Topeka, Kansas, because of the color of her skin.

In 1896, the Supreme Court ruled in Plessy v. Ferguson that “separate but equal” accommodations in railroad cars conformed to the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection. That ruling was used to justify segregating all public facilities, including elementary schools. However, in the case of Linda Brown, the white school she attempted to attend was far superior to her black alternative and miles closer to her home. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) took up Linda’s cause, and in 1954 Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka reached the Supreme Court. African American lawyer (and future Supreme Court justice) Thurgood Marshall led Brown’s legal team, and on May 17, 1954, the high court handed down its decision.

In an opinion written by Chief Justice Earl Warren, the nation’s highest court ruled that not only was the “separate but equal” doctrine unconstitutional in Linda’s case, it was unconstitutional in all cases because educational segregation stamped an inherent badge of inferiority on African American students. A year later, after hearing arguments on the implementation of their ruling, the Supreme Court published guidelines requiring public school systems to integrate “with all deliberate speed.”

In 1957, the first major confrontation over this decision came when African American students attempted to integrate Central High School in Little Rock. After Governor Faubus surrounded the school with Arkansas National Guard troops, a showdown with federal officials ensued. On September 24, President Dwight Eisenhower sent 1,000 U.S. troops to Little Rock. The next day, the African American students entered under heavily armed guard. The episode served as a catalyst for the integration of other segregated schools in the United States.

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us!

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Comedy legend Joan Rivers dies

On this day in 2014, Joan Rivers, one of the best-known comedians of her era, dies at age 81 in a New York City hospital, a week after she went into cardiac arrest while undergoing a medical procedure on her vocal cords at a Manhattan clinic. During a showbiz career that spanned ...read more

Western Roman Empire falls

Romulus Augustus, the last emperor of the Western Roman Empire, is deposed by Odoacer, a German barbarian who proclaims himself king of Italy. Odoacer was a mercenary leader in the Roman imperial army when he launched his mutiny against the young emperor. At Piacenza, he defeated ...read more

Geronimo surrenders

On this day in 1886, Apache chief Geronimo surrenders to U.S. government troops. For 30 years, the mighty Native American warrior had battled to protect his tribe’s homeland; however, by 1886 the Apaches were exhausted and hopelessly outnumbered. General Nelson Miles accepted ...read more

Spitz wins 7th gold medal

U.S. swimmer Mark Spitz wins his seventh gold medal at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich. Spitz swam the fly leg of the 400-meter medley relay, and his team set a new world-record time of 3 minutes, 48.16 seconds. Remarkably, Spitz also established new world records in the six ...read more

American troops land at Archangel

On September 4, 1918, United States troops land at Archangel, in northern Russia. The landing was part of an Allied intervention in the civil war raging in that country after revolution in 1917 led to the abdication of Czar Nicholas II in favor of a provisional government; the ...read more