Revisiting a Civil Rights Icon, Daisy Bates

DaisyBatesThe recent Supreme Court ruling invalidating Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 has 2dopesistahs thinking about the sacrifices of activists who participated in the Civil Rights Movement. For my current research project, I revisited (re-read) The Long Shadow of Little Rock  by civil rights icon, Daisy Bates.

Daisy Bates became a national figure in 1957 when nine black students, known as the Little Rock Nine, were chosen to integrate previously all-white Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. As the president of the Arkansas State Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Bates had been actively pushing the school board to implement and stick to a plan of desegregation to comply with the decision in Brown v. Board of Education. In this memoir, Bates chronicles her experiences as she coordinated the activities of the students and documented the attacks on the students while in school.

In a show of massive resistance, Arkansas governor Orval Faubus called out the National Guard on the first day of school to prevent the Little Rock Nine from attending classes. Eventually, the Nine were able to attend school after Pres. Dwight D. Eisenhower federalized the Arkansas National Guard and dispatched 1,000 Army paratroopers to protect the students, but not before an angry, anti-integration mob had threatened the students’ safety both individually (Elizabeth Eckford) and collectively.

Adult Daisy Bates

Daisy Lee Gatson Bates (1914-1999)

Little Rock residents who supported the integration plan were singled out for harassment by those attempting to maintain the Jim Crow status quo. Supporters received threatening calls, and others lost their jobs. Daisy Bates had crosses burned in her front yard, and gunshots pierced her living room window. Finally, in 1959, she and her husband L.C. were forced to close the State Press, the weekly newspaper they began publishing in 1941, because of lost advertising revenue. (Daisy Bates was able to begin publishing the paper again in 1985, but this was after her husband’s death.)

In the foreward to the first edition (1962), Eleanor Roosevelt writes that she wishes Daisy Bates “had been able to keep from giving us some of her sense of her bitterness and fear in the end of the book” (xvi). However, I thought it was remarkable that a person who had endured the loss of her livelihood, threats to her safety, and attempts on her life remained so hopeful. Bates had a right to “question America.”

I had forgotten how compelling this book is, and I highly recommend it. It is an excellent read. And if you have an interest in books written by members of the Little Rock Nine, both Melba Patillo Beals and Carlotta Walls Lanier have written memoirs.