Why did it happen here? 

click to enlarge LITTLE ROCK, 1957: Two boys in a downtown sandlot watch a segregationist parade.
  • LITTLE ROCK, 1957: Two boys in a downtown sandlot watch a segregationist parade.

“Arkansas has a favored position in the South because of its attitude on the segregation-integration question. The attitude of the state is known to be that it will not accept the dictates of outsiders on local affairs. We have the good will of the South, but because the state is moderate and progressive and has had no incidents to cause a storm of criticism, we have not lost the good will nor the respect of those who have opposite views.”

— Gov. Orval E. Faubus, March, 14, 1957,

at end of legislative session

“Prior to this time in Arkansas, the hand of fellowship and mutual self-respect has everywhere been extended between the races. Much progress has been made in this field and in others pertaining to the progress of the state and the human welfare of all citizens.

“Under my administration, all transportation systems have been integrated and without serious incidents. Six of the seven state-supported colleges now have Negro students. In the other, there were no applicants.

“I was the first Democratic governor of the South to place the Negroes on the Democratic State Central Committee. Negroes also serve on the Republican committee.

Some years ago I was a member of the Resolutions Committee, which recommended to the Democratic State Convention that the so-called white primary be abolished, opening the Democratic primaries to the members of all races. The convention adopted the resolution and this was accomplished without any ruling by any federal court.

“Negroes have been appointed on boards and commission during my administration and have been appointed to administration positions never before held by members of their race.

“Eight public schools have been peacefully integrated during my administration — more than in any other Southern state outside the border areas. The first Negro to graduate from law school in a Southern college previously all-white was in Arkansas and the first Negro doctor to graduate from a previously all-white Southern college was in Arkansas. All this adds up to greater progress in Arkansas than in any other state of the Deep South.

“We have had some few letters and telegrams saying we must let Negroes go to school. Well, here are pictures of the most modern schools in this city which had been constructed for members of the Negro race. They are much finer, ladies and gentlemen, and any of you can check. These schools are more modern with more modern facilities than the one at Central High where Negroes now seek to enroll with white students.”

— Gov. Faubus, television address,

Sept. 26, 1957

One of the great unsolved mysteries of the 1957 Little Rock Desegregation Crisis at Central High School is, “Why did it happen here?”

Most residents and observers of Arkansas's capital in the mid-1950s believed that school desegregation would proceed smoothly. Journalists and historians of more-recent times, in writing about what happened at Central, have agreed with that notion.

Situated outside the unabashedly racist Deep South, Little Rock was a “progressive” city that let blacks into its public libraries and onto city buses before the law required it. (A 1954 Associated Press article portrayed Georgia, Louisiana Mississippi and South Carolina as the states most likely “to evade the Supreme Court mandate.”)

When the segregationist White Citizens Council groups spread to Arkansas from neighboring Mississippi — and to Little Rock in the form of the Capital Citizens Council — they did not attract the large and influential backing provided elsewhere in the South.



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