The September 23, 1957 issue of Time magazine featured controversial Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus on its cover. An accompanying in-depth article titled “What Orval Hath Wrought” profiled Faubus and the part his actions played in the current Little Rock school integration crisis. Time writers minced no words in indicting Faubus for self-aggrandizing behavior at the expense of the citizens, students, and local government of the town of Little Rock – and beyond.
From the outset, Faubus maintained that integrating African-American students into Little Rock Central High School in the fall of 1957 would result in violence, even “bloodshed.” He adamantly stated that he was not anti-integration, but that the timing was too soon, that the (white) people of Arkansas would not accept integration and would resort to criminal behavior to prevent it. His assessment, Time reported, was patently untrue. Other integration efforts in Arkansas had already been successfully achieved. Little Rock Mayor Woodrow Wilson Mann had helped carefully craft an integration plan for the start of the school year which included measures to preserve safety and order. “There was no indication of unrest whatever,” Mann was quoted. “We had no reason to believe there would be violence.” The community of Little Rock, including the parents of the nine African-American teens selected to attend Central High, had faith in Mayor Mann’s preparations. Then, on September 4th, the first day of school, Orval called in the Arkansas National Guard to block school access (and protect his gubernatorial mansion). His actions aggravated local tensions, which were relieved only by the intervention of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, when he deployed the 101st Airborne Division of the U.S. Army to Little Rock on September 24th. The Little Rock Nine, the moniker by which the African-American students became known, began attending classes and Faubus’ disguised electioneering efforts began to backfire on him.
The effects of Faubus’ actions weren’t limited to Little Rock. Southern school districts in North Little Rock and Ozark, Arkansas, Knoxville, Tennessee, and Charlotte, North Carolina experienced trouble as a direct result. African-American students who had been integrated into white schools were now barred from schools, jeered, pushed and shoved, hit with clothes hangars and books. A white motorist attempted to run down two children on their way home from school. The Knoxville News-Sentinel stated, “This official act has lent an air of respectability and social approval to mob action.”
Faubus, at the time, was preparing his bid for an unprecedented third term as governor. His popularity was waning and he had little political or personal ammunition with which to persuade Arkansasans to approve his return. How to increase his cache as a candidate? Manufacture an incipient crisis and style himself as a segregationist savior-hero. Get himself in the headlines.
Headlines Faubus got – and the cover of a respected national news magazine. For Orval, the story was not one of triumph, however, but tragedy.