Little Rock Nine: Activities

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Activity Ideas

:: Primary Documents (Grades 4-7): President Eisenhower waited nearly a month before sending federal troops to protect the Little Rock Nine. The President's handwritten notes (PDF) hint that public relations concerns contributed to the delay: "Troops – not to enforce integration but to prevent violent opposition." Once the troops arrived, parents of the Little Rock Nine sent the President a telegraph thanking him for the federal government's intervention. The parents' telegraph uses descriptive, persuasive phrases and words, urging the President to fully embrace school integration as a matter of national character.

Introduce students to telegraph-based writing, e.g., the use of "stop" in place of periods and the fact that people paid by the word for telegraphs, so language choice was important. Then ask students to underline passages in the telegraph where the parents employ persuasive, descriptive language, e.g., "We believe that freedom and equality with which all men are endowed at birth can be maintained only through freedom and equality of opportunity for self development growth and purposeful citizenship."

As a follow-up, ask students to adapt words and phrases from the parents' telegraph in original letters or emails to policymakers, public officials and/or people who affect their lives intimately, e.g., siblings, parents and guardians.

:: From Film to Poetry (Grades 5-10) As a class, watch this ten-minute YouTube clip about Central High. Ask students to reflect on what they've seen using poetic form.

:: Art Projects for Self and Community (Grades 6-12) The story of Daisy Bates, listed above, references the fact that her mother was murdered by white men. What it doesn't say is this: After the murder, and as a young girl, Bates struggled with a dislike for Whites. Her father helped her turn those feelings around, advising her that "hate can destroy you. Don't hate white people just because they are white. If you hate, make it count for something. Hate the humiliations we are living under in the South. Hate the discrimination that eats away at the soul of every black man and woman." Bates later said her father's intervention inspired her to "do what I could to help my race."

A deep personal pain and a father's intervention catapulted Bates into a life of activism. Ask students to reflect on moments in their own lives that do, or could, inspire them to take action. Encourage students to create pieces of art – pencil drawings, watercolor paintings or sculptures – representing the episodes symbolically. Invite student volunteers to share the "hidden meanings" of their artwork with the class. Encourage students to respond to each other's creations verbally or in writing.

:: What's (Not) in the Textbook? (Grades 7-12) What does your textbook say about the Little Rock Nine and the events at Central High? What's missing? Break students into six small groups and ask each group to investigate one of the following aspects of the landmark event: the federal government's role, the state government's role, the roles of Little Rock's residents, the roles of white students at Central High, the role of the media, and the roles of the Little Rock Nine and groups like the NAACP that supported them. Combine students' findings into a textbook supplement and distribute it to other classrooms.

An excellent resource for student research is Crisis in Little Rock, available online for free from Facing History and Ourselves.