“Mob rule cannot be allowed to override the decisions of our courts.”
Following the landmark decision to desegregate public schools (Brown v Board of Education, 1954), there was widespread resistance to the orders. In 1957, the integration crisis came to a head in Little Rock, Arkansas, where Governor Orval Faubus challenged efforts by the school board to institute a gradual school desegregation process. He ordered state National Guard troops to defy Federal law and stop nine African-American students from attending an all-white high school.
On September 4, 100 armed National Guard troops encircled Central High School as a mob of white civilians gathered, shouting racial epithets and threatening the black teenagers. The National Guard troops refused to let the black students pass. One of the nine, 15-year-old Elizabeth Eckford, was surrounded by the mob, which threatened to lynch her. She was finally led to safety by a sympathetic white woman.
Images of the subsequent mob violence directed towards the “Little Rock Nine” were seen around the world. In response, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, on September 24, 1957, announced he would send in federal troops to defend the court ruling and protect the children.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower, “Radio and Television Address to the American People on the Situation in Little Rock,” (September 24, 1957)
For a few minutes this evening I want to speak to you about the serious situation that has arisen in Little Rock. To make this talk I have come to the President’s office in the White House. I could have spoken from Rhode Island, where I have been staying recently, but I felt that, in speaking from the house of Lincoln, of Jackson and of Wilson, my words would better convey both the sadness I feel in the action I was compelled today to take and the firmness with which I intend to pursue this course until the orders of the Federal Court at Little Rock can be executed without unlawful interference.
In that city, under the leadership of demagogic extremists, disorderly mobs have deliberately prevented the carrying out of proper orders from a Federal Court. Local authorities have not eliminated that violent opposition and, under the law, I yesterday issued a Proclamation calling upon the mob to disperse.
This morning the mob again gathered in front of the Central High School of Little Rock, obviously for the purpose of again. preventing the carrying out of the Court’s order relating to the admission of Negro children to that school.
Whenever normal agencies prove inadequate to the task and it becomes necessary for the Executive Branch of the Federal Government to use its powers and authority to uphold Federal Courts, the President’s responsibility is inescapable.
In accordance with that responsibility, I have today issued an Executive Order directing the use of troops under Federal authority to aid in the execution of Federal law at Little Rock, Arkansas. This became necessary when my Proclamation of yesterday was not observed, and the obstruction of justice still continues.
Complete text and Source: Dwight D. Eisenhower: “Radio and Television Address to the American People on the Situation in Little Rock.,” September 24, 1957. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project.
Airborne troops escort African American students into Little Rock High School (Source: National Archives)
The National Park Service has a page on the Little Rock High School National Historic Site.
Also recommended is a series on education and race in America today, including “The Resegregation of Jefferson County” in the New York Times Magazine.