In honor of fiftieth anniversary of the integration of Central High School, Women of the Central High Crisis: The Politics of Gender and Desegregation will be on exhibit at Arkansas History Commission from September 16 through December 14, 2007. The exhibit examines the roles of women in the Central High Crisis over desegregation in Little Rock, Arkansas, from 1957 to 1959.
Central High School is a national symbol of the struggle over school desegregation. In 1957, nine African American students, referred to as the Little Rock Nine, enrolled at Central High School. Governor Orval Faubus ordered the Arkansas National Guard to stop the nine African American students from entering the school. President Dwight D. Eisenhower sent federal troops to escort the students to Central High School. The 1957-1958 school year was filled with turmoil for the Little Rock Nine. The next year Governor Orval Faubus closed Little Rock’s four high schools to prevent the desegregation of the schools from continuing.
Between 1957 and 1959, women in Little Rock came together to voice their opinion and fight for the education of their children. This exhibit describes the roles of various women in this historic event, including Daisy Bates, the six female African American students who were part of the Little Rock Nine, the Women's Emergency Committee to Open Our Schools, the Mother's League of Central High, and the teachers.
As members of the Little Rock Nine, Elizabeth Eckford, Carlotta Walls, Melba Pattillo, Minnijean Brown, Thelma Mothershed and Gloria Ray faced daily struggles and harassment from other students. As state President of the NAACP and publisher (along with her husband, L. C.) of The Arkansas State Press, Daisy Bates advocated civil rights long before becoming the mentor of the Little Rock Nine. Formed in August 1957, the Mothers’ League announced its intention to prevent integration at Central High. Created to fill the void of male civic leadership in the ongoing school crisis, the Women’s Emergency Committee to Open Our Schools (WEC) became the only organization publicly favoring moderation, or reopening desegregated schools, in 1958.Teachers at Central High School withstood the turmoil of the 1957-1958 school year with varied reactions, but school board member Dr. Dale Alford noted that “tension was so great that a few of the teachers actually sought medical aid as a result of the strain.” The following school year, all the public high school teachers in Little Rock prepared in vain for opening day as Governor Faubus closed the schools rather than face another round of desegregation. The efforts of all of these women are an important part of Arkansas history and the civil rights movement.
The Arkansas History Commission in conjunction with the Central High School National Historic Site and the Public History Program at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock developed this exhibition. The exhibit is free and open to the public at the Arkansas History Commission at One Capitol Mall in Little Rock, Monday through Saturday from 8:00 am to 4:30 pm.