September 25, 1957 – The First Day, a New Day, at Little Rock Central High

Soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division escort Little Rock Nine students into all-white Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas.

On September 25, 1957, the Little Rock Nine – Ernest Green, Elizabeth Eckford, Jefferson Thomas, Terrence Roberts, Carlotta Walls LaNier, Minnijean Brown, Gloria Ray Karlmark, Thelma Mothershed, and Melba Beals – entered the halls of Little Rock Central High School for the first time.  The 101st Airborne Division of the United States Army had arrived in Little Rock the day before, at President Dwight Eisenhower’s order.  Early on the morning of the 25th, a Wednesday, the highly decorated and prestigious “Screaming Eagles”, who served valiantly on the beaches of Normandy, in the Battle of the Bulge, and in Vietnam, once again answered the call to serve their country in battle.  This day’s battle was for educational freedom and against racial prejudice.

With the first day of classes behind them, the Little Rock Nine and the 101st won the first skirmish in the long war for equal opportunity, against physical – or virtual – segregation.

101st Airborne escorts Little Rock Nine. Photo: US Army

101st Airborne escorts Little Rock Nine.

Image Credit: U.S. Army

July 28, 1957 – “The Voice of the White South” on The Mike Wallace Interview Show


Senator James Eastland

Senator James Eastland, D-Mississippi

On July 28, 1957, Mike Wallace interviewed anti-civil rights Senator James Eastland of Mississippi on his CBS show.  The Civil Rights Act of 1957, primarily a voting rights act with the goal of ensuring all African-Americans could exercise their right to vote, was under consideration in the Senate.  Sen. Eastland headed up the judiciary committee, where the bill was in the process of being significantly altered to achieve compromise between pro- and anti-rights factions.  Wallace refrained from questioning Eastland about the pending bill, seeking his opinions on segregation, slavery, the Soviet Union, voting rights laws, and the Ku Klux Klan during the hour-length show.

In this post, I will quote Eastland accurately, as offensive as that may be.  Wallace used the term “Negro” to refer to African-American citizens in 1957; Eastland used both “Negro” and “Nigra”.

Sen. Eastland’s statements included:

“This doctrine of the separation of the races has been involved over many years by both races.  It’s not something that one race has imposed on another race.”

“After the south was defeated [in the Civil War], when the white people were disenfranchised and could not vote, the first reconstruction legislature of my state controlled by members of the Nigra race passed three laws: one, that there be segregation on trains and in public transportation; two, that there be a separate school system; three they levied a poll tax; four, they made it a felony for the races to intermarry and provided a life sentence in the penitentiary for one who crossed that line.”

“The vast majority of Negroes want their own schools, their own hospitals, their own churches, their own restaurants.”

“I’m suggesting . . . 99% of Negroes in the south want segregation, certainly.”

“The war between the states was caused by other reasons [than the abolition of slavery].”

“I don’t think . . . where there is a real racial problem . . . that [school integration] will work.”

“[Negroes] do not vote [in Mississippi] because they have a long history of Republicanism, they are members of the Republican Party, and of course they cannot vote in the Democratic primary which is the election in our state.  The Republican Party doesn’t even run candidates.”

“Segregation in the south . . . is to protect both races.”

And, finally, Wallace asked, “Do you think, Senator, the day will come in your lifetime when we will see an integrated south?”

Eastland’s reply: “No.”

Image Credit: Mississippi Department of Archives and History

June 17, 1957 – The Tuskegee Boycott Begins


On June 17, 1957, African-American residents of the city of Tuskegee resolved to stop patronizing white-owned businesses in what came to be called the Tuskegee Boycott.  The population of highly segregated Tuskegee, Alabama, home of the famous Tuskegee Institute (founded to educate newly freed slaves) and the Tuskegee Airmen (the first squadron of African-American pilots in the military), was about 6700 at the time, approximately 70%, or 4800, were African-American.  The white governing minority, afraid that voter registration of the African-American population might catch up and surpass the white voters (in spite of the intentional slowdown of voter registration reviews by the all-white Board of Registrars), decided it was time to redraw the city boundaries.  State Sen. Sam Engelhardt, Jr. proposed legislation to reduce the geographic size of Tuskegee, eliminating the current northwest quadrant where Tuskegee Institute, and the mostly African-American community surrounding it, were located.  The legislature passed the gerrymandering bill and sent it to Governor James Folsom for approval.

Tuskegee GerrymanderThe response of the African-American community was to vote with their dollars, if they were going to be denied the right to vote by ballot.  In a rally at the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, Tuskegee Institute’s Prof. Charles Gomillion proposed,

“We will buy goods and services only from those who will recognize us as first-class citizens.  They may hate our guts, but they will respect us.  We can hold out longer than they.  We can form our own businesses if necessary.  We will continue as long as we have to.”

A week into the boycott, white merchants were not yet “openly alarmed” but their businesses were hurting “more than they will admit”.  Prof. Gomillion summed up the sentiment of the African-American community in this way:

“They are hurt to think this could happen.  They are resentful and disgusted. In the past two years, only four colored persons have been examined by the Board of Registrars which grants voting certificates.  For years the board has followed the practice of meeting to register white voters, then disband when colored persons try to appear before it.”

Image Credit: U.S. Supreme Court