LESSON

The Little Rock Battle for School Integration

In 1957, Little Rock African Americans made their city the most significant test case for the United States Supreme Court’s 1954 and 1955 Brown v. Board of Education rulings.
Grade Level

As a result of Daisy Bates’s tireless leadership, President Eisenhower was forced to protect black children’s constitutional right to equal education. In September 1957, he sent 1,000 members of the Army’s 101st Airborne and 10,000 federalized Arkansas National Guards to Little Rock. Eisenhower’s action marked the first time an American President had used Executive Power to enforce the rights of African Americans since the end of Reconstruction. 

This lesson series commemorates the 55th anniversary of the integration of Little Rock Central High School. One lesson features the biography of Daisy Bates, a leader of the desegregation crisis. Another focuses on the nine African-American youths who risked their lives for equality. The final two lessons examine how school integration affected the Little Rock community, beginning with the debates of the 1950s and ranging to the impact of integration over 50 years after the event. 

Lesson One: The Personal Is Political: Daisy Bates asks questions of identity as students read excerpts from “Rebirth,” from Bates’ 1962 memoir, The Long Shadow of Little Rock. Students learn about Bates’ traumatic childhood, and how the rape and murder of her birth mother, her encounters with racism and sexism in her hometown, and the premature death of her adoptive father shaped her into a civil rights activist. 

Lesson Two: Little Rock in Black And White focuses on questions of diversity within the Little Rock community in the wake of the Brown v. Board of Education decisions. Students will read primary sources to explore the diversity of opinions that existed within black and white communities in Little Rock.

Lesson Three: The Children’s Movement: Little Rock Nine focuses on questions of justice and the role youth have played in social and political movements. By reading a combination of primary and secondary sources, students will learn how the Little Rock Nine came to play their important role. These children’s participation in school integration stemmed, not from the prodding of the parents or activists, but from within themselves. The Little Rock Nine inspired the next generation of young people who led the civil rights movement in the 1960s. 

Lesson Four: Integration 55 Years Later focuses on questions of activism. Students will read newspaper accounts from the 55th anniversary of the Little Rock desegregation crisis. They will revisit the 1950s goals for integration and use knowledge accumulated from readings and personal experience to write a critical thinking, analytical essay explaining why they believe racial integration has been a success, failure or remains a work of progress in American schools.