Little Rock Nine

September 15, 1957 – Mike Wallace Interviews Arkansas Gov. Orval Faubus

Governor Orval Faubus

On September 15, 1957, the Mike Wallace Interview show on ABC aired a conversation between host Mike Wallace and Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus, current Commander-in-Chief of the Arkansas National Guard on duty in front of Little Rock Central High School.  Gov. Faubus had just met with Pres. Dwight Eisenhower, at the President’s request, to clarify his reasons for defying a federal court order to integrate Little Rock High.  Faubus stated that he intended to respect the decisions of the court and fully cooperate and carry out his responsibilities for integrating Arkansas schools.  The Guard, he maintained, had been called out to “keep the peace and order of the community” which was “paramount to all other issues”.

Gov. Faubus told Wallace that at this time “it would not be possible to integrate without disorder and violence” and “the troops will still be on duty in the morning”.  They would be taken off duty only “under a condition of tranquility and general acceptance by the people”, the presence of which it would be his responsibility to determine “on the basis of facts and information that are available to me”.  “Eighty-two percent of the people agreed that disorder and violence would have occurred, had not I taken the action which I did,” Faubus claimed.

Wallace pressed Faubus for documentation of his claims regarding incipient violence, but Faubus refused to reveal the material he said he had turned over to the FBI, pending possible court litigation.

Wallace then asked Gov. Faubus why he had not ordered the Arkansas Guard to protect the African-American children and enable them to enter the schools, rather than prevent their entry.  Faubus replied that “the best way to prevent the violence was to remove the cause”.  Faubus pointed out that other school districts in Arkansas, the state colleges, and local transportation systems had all integrated without interference on his part because they were able to do so peacefully.  Not so Little Rock.

Faubus stated, “malice, envy, hate is deplorable, in any place or in any circumstances, but as President Eisenhower has said himself, you can’t change the hearts of people by law . . . all I’ve ever asked for, is some time for the situation to change for it to become acceptable, so that there would not be disorder and violence.  If [integration] is right, it will come about.  So, why should we be so impatient as to want to force it, because force begets force, hate begets hate, malice begets malice.”

Faubus also proclaimed his belief that “some of the finest citizens we have in Arkansas are Negro citizens and many of them have most responsible positions and they carry them out with credit to themselves and the State and the Nation and the citizenry as a whole.  I believe that each person should be judged upon his individual merits and that it should not apply to races, or classes or groups.”

Image Credit: Burt Glinn/Magnum Photos

November 5, 1957 – Election Day in Little Rock, Arkansas

Little Rock Mayor Woodrow Mann talks with Col. William Kuhn, commander of the 101st Airborne Division. Photo: US Army

Little Rock Mayor Woodrow Mann talks with Col. William Kuhn, commander of the 101st Airborne Division. Photo: US Army

On November 5, 1957, the first Tuesday in November, voters in integration battlefield Little Rock, Arkansas went to the polls to elect a new mayor.  The incumbent, Democrat Woodrow Wilson Mann, had decided not to run for a second term.  Mann’s election campaign in 1955 to put Little Rock’s first Republican mayor, Pratt C. Remmel, out of office, had been blessed by Arkansas’ Governor Orval Faubus, Senator James Fulbright, and Representatives Brooks Hays and Wilbur Mills, all Democrats.  But by the late fall of 1957, Mann knew he had fallen from grace with his state party machine.

The Little Rock school district had been ordered to integrate, starting with the 1957 school year, in compliance with the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Brown vs. Board of Education.  Nine African-American students had enrolled in Little Rock Central High and attempted to attend the first day of classes in September.  Gov. Faubus had responded by activating the Arkansas National Guard to prevent the teenagers from entering the school.  Even though he never supported classroom integration, Mann wrote, in one of a series of articles later published by the New York Herald Tribune in 1958, he felt bound to uphold the law in the Supreme Court’s ruling against desegregation.  He contradicted Faubus’ interpretation of the events surrounding the crisis, asserting that the Guard troops weren’t necessary to prevent violence.  A small group of organized agitators, and weak-kneed Faubus’ political pandering were to blame.  “Left to ourselves we could easily complied with the law,” he asserted.

So on a fateful day in September, Mayor Mann telegraphed President Dwight Eisenhower.  “I am pleading to you as president of the United States to provide the necessary troops within several hours”, he wrote, adding that an armed mob was growing by the minute.  Eisenhower deployed the Army’s 101st Airborne and the Little Rock Nine, as the students came to be known, entered Central High.  Roy Reed, author of a biography of Orval Faubus and reporter for the Arkansas Gazette at the time, said Mayor Mann “did what needed to be done and stood up”, adding, “It almost certainly cost him any future that he had in politics in Arkansas.”  Gov. Faubus subsequently expressed his regret over ever having supported Woodrow Mann for mayor.

With the political writing on the wall, and crosses burning on his front lawn, Mann decided not to run for reelection.  Democrat and construction company owner Werner C. Knoop was voted into office on November 5th, along with a slate of new school board members, one of which ran on a militantly anti-integration platform.  Mann, an insurance broker who as mayor had taken small but significant steps toward racial equality in Little Rock city government, relocated to Houston, where he stood a better chance of success in business.  He remained in Houston, where he retired in 1990, and passed away in 2002 at the age of 85.

September 23, 1957 – Time Magazine Profiles Arkansas Governor Oral Faubus

Time Faubus CoverThe 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.

Time Magazine, Sept. 23, 1957. Graphic: R.M. Chapin, Jr.

Time Magazine, Sept. 23, 1957. Graphic: R.M. Chapin, Jr.